Lions must have a storming run

THE Lions celebrate their victory over the Glasgow Warriors at Ellis Park. BackpagePix

THE Lions celebrate their victory over the Glasgow Warriors at Ellis Park. BackpagePix

Published May 27, 2024


Mike Greenaway

THE Lions will have to put the Sharks’ EPCR Challenge Cup triumph out of their minds this week as they prepare for a final, must-win clash that will see them either progress to the URC play-offs, or suffer another disappointing season with nothing to show for their efforts.

The Sharks’ big reward for beating Gloucester is free passage to the Champions Cup at the expense of the team finishing eighth on the URC log. In other words, it is the top seven teams after this weekend’s final round of the URC that go through to the top-tier competition next season.

Rabz Maxwane of Lions. | BackpagePix

The Lions are in ninth position but are locked on 49 points with Benetton (eighth) and Edinburgh (seventh). If the Lions can beat the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday, they could well nail that seventh spot, or possibly higher.

Indeed, they could lift themselves as high as sixth if Ulster lose to Munster without collecting any points and the Lions win and score four tries in Green Point.

Interestingly, the Stormers cannot finish higher than their current fifth, so there is not a huge amount riding on the game for them, while for the Lions it is a cup final.

The Doornfontein-based side will also have a bit of good fortune on their side as either Benetton or Edinburgh will be knocked out of the race as they face each other in their last game at Stadio Comunale Monigo.

A Lions win, therefore, could mean four SA teams in the Champions Cup and that would be a big boost for the South African game.

If the Lions finish eighth and don’t go through because that spot has been taken by the Sharks, they would be understandably miffed that a team that finished much lower than them on the table has made it.

The Sharks could argue that the Lions had the same Challenge Cup opportunity as they did.

The Sharks’ game in Durban against the Bulls could go one of two ways. A Sharks team still drunk on Cup success could get a hiding from what will be a pumped-up Bulls side, or the Durbanites could pull themselves back into sharp focus and try to prove a point.

It surely will be a case of the latter. The feel-good factor at The Shark Tank after the Challenge Cup triumph would quickly turn if the Bulls ran riot. It is the last game of the season of the season for the Sharks and they must finish on the right note.

Coach John Plumtree will be telling his players that they are only as good as their last game.

The Bulls are going to Durban on a mission. If they win, they could finish first on the log and that means home-ground advantage as far as they progress in the play-offs.

The Sharks need to make it clear that they belong at the top table and are not seated there next season because they won a second-tier competition.