Johannesburg - Lions coach Swys de Bruin is taking a massive gamble on travelling later to New Zealand in the hope that it aids his side ahead of their Super Rugby final against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
De Bruin and his team will only leave on Monday evening, meaning they’re only likely to arrive in the early hours of Wednesday morning on the New Zealand South Island to continue their preparations for the match, according to the supersport.com website.
Traditionally teams have hot-footed it over on the first available flight, but the Lions are hoping the late arrival, finalising their preparations in Johannesburg and adjusting their sleeping patterns well will give them some boost for what is generally accepted as mission impossible.
There have been very few times in the competition’s history when a side has travelled halfway across the world in the span of a week and upset the odds in the opposition’s back-yard and it isn’t surprising to think the Lions will head there as heavy underdogs against a Crusaders side that is so on-song at the moment.
The home side were rampant in their win over the Hurricanes on the weekend, and never seemed to raise a sweat and South African teams have a horrific history of losing battles in Christchurch.
But saying that, the Lions will feel that if they are at home one night longer, and have a full day’s preparation at home in their normal routine, it will serve more of a purpose than flying first and then trying to adjust to jetlag and the situation when they arrive in New Zealand.
Also it worked for them on their tour where they flew only on the Tuesday before facing the Waratahs in Sydney and turned on one of their better performances of the season with a 29-0 victory, ironically their only one of their four match tour.
De Bruin though knows they will be written off, and he doesn’t worry about it, knowing his team will need to show their mettle on the field, where talking doesn’t matter.
“I believe in miracles and this team as proven it, but the fact is that they (Crusaders) are favourites. They are a very good team, but it is still 80 minutes between four white lines, so it will be interesting. They are a very good team though,” De Bruin said honestly, adding that there won’t be a change of plans or looking for extra motivation in a week like this.
“Not really, for a final there against them you’ve just got to keep it simple. They will motivate themselves, and it would be stupid of me to try and find things to motivate them. So just keep the focus on what we do and what we love to do, score tries and inspire people with the way we play.
“What is vital is to not make the occasion too big this time around, with too many emotions and about individuals and stuff. It has to be about the team, just about the team and stick to what works for us. And just start better...”
De Bruin will convene a leadership meeting before the game to talk about the Lions’ poor starts. The Crusaders thrive on these and had perfect starts in both their quarterfinals and semi-finals en route to Saturday’s showdown and if the Lions start badly again, it will be difficult to regain the momentum.
But given their pack performed exceptionally well this past weekend, there is hope that a simple, no-nonsense approach could help them counter the Crusaders momentum.
“I’ll have to speak to Jannie Putter before we do anything else to help us start better. He is a fundi on that area. We will sit with the leadership and look at that and see a solution. But on the other hand it is 80 minutes. If you win 60 of the 80, then it is OK,” De Bruin said in reference to their opening 20 minutes against the Waratahs.
“The pack was unreal, they laid a fantastic platform and that went along with good decisions in the backline. We worked a lot on counter attack and the turnover attack and the backs were exceptional on that. Andries Coetzee was great.”
But when a journalist suggested the Crusaders do have weak points, De Bruin laughed, underlining the huge task on his side’s hands.
“You must give me those. I watched this morning, there aren’t too many weak spots there, so we will have to find them,” he quipped.
And that will be the key to the Lions uphill battle this coming weekend.