Johannesburg – Boasting a flawless record in the round-robin phase of the Currie Cup competition, the Golden Lions are set to become the first team in nearly two decades to go unbeaten in a season.
The Sharks were the last team to finished the Currie Cup without a single defeat when they claimed the 1996 title with 15 victories from as many matches.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann risked their proud record in this competition by fielding a second-string side for Saturday’s match against Griquas in Johannesburg to give his first-choice players a rest ahead of next week’s semi-final.
The young and experienced players did the business claiming the team’s tenth consecutive victory with their 29-19 win over the visitors to become the first team in a decade to achieve this feat.
The Blue Bulls are the last team to go unbeaten in the league phase in 2006 only to bow the knee to the Free State Cheetahs in the final at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.
The Lions side will host the Free State Cheetahs in one of next weekend’s semi-finals at home in Johannesburg.
Griquas coach Hawies Fourie believed the Lions should go all the way and claim the coveted trophy or the first time since 2011.
“They don’t have to change a thing (for the semi-final) they just need to do what they do, there is not a team that would be able to keep up with them,” Fourie said on Saturday.
“The tempo they play at, their execution, their handling, their scrums, lineouts, are really good and their defence. I just can’t see any team beating them.”
While there is no doubt who Fourie will put his money on to win the title, Lions coach Johan Ackermann warned the playoffs would be a tougher prospect.
“The log doesn’t matter anymore and everybody is back on zero, and on the day you have to win but we are grateful for a great season,” Ackermann said.
“The players worked hard and we needed to work through a setback or two (in terms of injuries), so credit to the players and management.
“You can’t go unbeaten in 10 matches if you don’t have management that doesn’t support you which goes from the top to my immediate management.”
The Cheetahs scraped through for a semi-final berth after a gutsy fightback in their final match against the Sharks to enforce a 34-34 draw against the coastal side in Bloemfontein.
The Free State side will be firm underdogs in next weekend’s semi-final with the 73-31 annihilation at the hands of the Lions a stark reminder of the uphill battle that lay before them.
Ackermann said that result would have no bearing on the playoff match as the Cheetahs had a history of upsetting favourites in the past.
“You can’t read too much into that result, and if there is one team that have toppled teams then it is the Free State,” Ackermann said.
“They have beaten the Blue Bulls in a final when nobody gave them a chance, so it is going to be a big challenge and we will have to play one of our better games.”