The current Lions team may not boast the large number of Springboks that the other three teams in the Currie Cup semifinals have, but that is a statistic that is likely to change in the near future.
Lions captain Cobus Grobbelaar, speaking to Jan de Koning of rugby365.com on the eve of his team’s semifinal showdown with the Sharks in Durban on Saturday, described the current pride as “the dawn of a new Springbok era”.
Grobbelaar will lead a Lions team that has just one regular Springbok, Jaque Fourie, in the starting XV and in prop Heinke van der Merwe their only other Bok in the run-on selection. There are two other Boks on the bench – veterans Lawrence Sephaka and Jannes Labuschagne, the latter having only made his comeback from retirement a fortnight ago.
Compare this to their opponents on Saturday, the Sharks – who have 11 Boks in starting XV and four more on the bench.
In the other semifinal the Bulls have eight internationals in the starting XV and one on the bench, while the Cheetahs have seven in starting XV and two on the bench.
But Grobbelaar says it is not about big names, but big hearts and a team effort in the play-offs.
He readily admits that the Sharks are favourites for their semifinal showdown in Durban on Saturday, but it is not a situation that is of concern to the pride of Johannesburg.
“At this stage they [the Sharks] are the form team and top of the standings,” Grobbelaar told rugby365.com.
“However, in the semifinals it really doesn’t matter. It is nicer to go into the game with nothing to lose – when nobody is expecting us to do anything, so that is a nice position to be in.”
It is not the first time the Lions will head into the play-offs as underdogs. Last year they found themselves in a similar situation and beat the Sharks 19-12 in Durban.
Admittedly the Sharks were minus their World Cup Boks, but then the Lions also missed their talisman – Jaque Fourie.
Grobbelaar said it is all about the team and that is why the Lions have overcome the odds.
“You can have 15 very great individuals, but if they don’t function as a team they won’t achieve,” he said, adding: “That is why we do so well, we operate as a team and gel very well.
“The players compliment each other. Just look at our loose forwards, see how we compliment each other. It is a pleasure to play in such a set-up and that has been the key to our success this year and last year, the fact that we function as a team.”
The other factor that has contributed to their success is that the team has been together for a couple of years now.
“It certainly helps with the players getting familiar with the game plan and getting familiar with the territory in which they operate,” he said about a combination that has remain largely unchanged.
“The players are certainly more at ease with where they are at.”
Grobbelaar also believes that a number of the players in the team are on the verge of bursting into the Springbok ranks in the near future.
“There is no doubt that there are a number of future Springboks in our team, players who are in their early and mid 20s, players who are still going to play very good rugby,” he said of a team he describes as a “pleasure to play in”.
When prompted to elaborate on the “future Boks” in the team, he said “their era” will come soon.
“We’re at the dawn of a new era and then our youngsters will start getting into the Springbok team,” he told rugby365.com.
“I truly believe we [the Lions] will produce a number of Springboks [in the near future], and if we retain the core of these players, the depth of the Lions will also improve tremendously and as a team we’ll also see a significant upwards curve in our game.”
While Grobbelaar, without doubt one of the best openside flanks in South Africa, may have been unlucky to not have received higher honours than the South Africa ‘A’ call-up he had in 2004, he is certainly not beating himself up about national selection issues.
“It will always be a dream [to play for the Springboks], but you can’t select yourself.
“You can simply do your best on and off the field and if it happens it will be great, but if it doesn’t happen it is just one of those things.
“If that [Springbok selection] becomes your focus, your game will suffer and you may miss those opportunities when they do arrive. But, yes, it would be nice to get a call.”Tweet