Winning the 2018 Super Rugby title would be massively significant to a side that has lost both of the past two finals, but hopefully the Lions bosses are looking well beyond next week to ensure that the team remains a championship contender long after the current crop of players and coaches exit the franchise.
Johan Ackermann’s departure from Johannesburg at the end of last season was met with mourning as his departure was seen as the premature end of an era in South African rugby. Scribes were quick to point out how the Lions would fail without the influence of their beloved Coach Ackies, and that they were incapable of evolving without him, but all is well in the City of Gold as Swys de Bruin has guided the team to a third consecutive final.
During his tenure, Ackermann stressed the importance of building a brotherhood; a legacy that would live on long after he – or indeed, any of his players – had left the union, and the Lions’ sustained success depends on maintaining those pillars.
There were plenty of factors that accounted for the Bulls’ decline following the golden period that saw them win three titles in four years from 2007 to 2010. Perhaps most salient was their failure to groom replacements for what were some truly exceptional players, and to continue to develop a winning game-plan.
In spite of the mass player exodus from the Lions of late (most of whom have joined up with Ackermann at Gloucester), they simply have to retain as many players of value as is possible. Certainly, the news this week that captain Warren Whiteley and Andries Coetzee have signed new deals is a big step in the right direction.
But, regardless of who lifts the trophy next week, the Lions need to keep the bigger picture in sight.
The decision to appoint De Bruin (a man who worked beside Ackermann during his head coaching stint) as the new Top Cat has also been vindicated. However, if the Lions fail to lift the trophy this season, the boardroom bandits can expect a backlash of note. Their credibility will doubtless come into question, as will their decision to let Ackermann leave.
In fact, so much focus will fall on the loss of Ackermann that few would even bother to appreciate how good the current situation at the Lions is, especially considering their relegation from Super Rugby in 2013.
A first-ever Super Rugby crown would be a seminal moment in franchise history and, until they win one, that must always be the top priority. But that is a perennial objective and the Lions must not let their hunger for the 2018 title undermine Ackermann’s greater vision to drive the Lions to the top and keep them there.
Getting to the top is secondary to staying there.
Follow Shaun on Twitter: @ShaunGoosie
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