The Lions are well-placed to claim South African rugby's first title of significance since 2010, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Remember when the Bulls beat the Stormers in the final to win the 2010 Super Rugby tournament? That was the last time a South African side won a Super Rugby title. Indeed, it was the last time a South African side won any title of significance.
The Springboks have not won the southern hemisphere's showpiece event – previously the Tri-Nations, now the Rugby Championship – since 2009. Truth be told, they have made up the numbers in as many as six of the seven campaigns staged between 2010 and 2016.
Apart from the 2013 tournament, which witnessed a rare win by the Boks on Australasian soil, as well as a challenge for the title in the final game against the All Blacks, the national side has given South African fans nothing to shout about. The All Blacks have claimed five titles, while the Wallabies have won two during this period.
The Super Rugby tournament has been no different. Since the Bulls won their third title in 2010, the New Zealand teams have won four titles between them, the Aussies two, and the South Africans zero.
Some might suggest that a couple of sides have come close to ending the drought. The Sharks represented South Africa in the decider against the Chiefs in 2012, while the Lions played the Hurricanes in the final last year. Both of those games were played in New Zealand, however, and no team has ever won a Super Rugby final after travelling from another continent.
This year, the final will be played at Ellis Park. On this occasion, it is the Crusaders who will be forced to traverse the Indian Ocean in the lead-up to a final.
The Lions still have it all to do in the coming match against the seven-time champions, and as coach Johan Ackermann stated recently, should take nothing for granted. That said, they have a golden opportunity to win their first title and at the same time end South African rugby's six-year trophy drought.
Victory for the Lions would provide the South African rugby community as a whole with a much-needed boost. It would give all and sundry cause to believe that the Boks will produce better performances and results in the Rugby Championship and in the subsequent tour to Europe.
The Boks lost four of their six Tests in the 2016 Rugby Championship, a record that included three straight losses away from home. They conceded 41 and 57 points respectively in their defeats to the All Blacks.
Following losses to England, Italy and Wales, the Boks finished the 2016 season with a 33% win record. While they thrashed France 3-0 in the series played in June, they will know that the opposition in the Rugby Championship will demand more of them physically.
Photo: Anne Laing