Lions incredible fighting spirit keeps their hopes alive

rugby20 May 2024 06:40| © SuperSport
By:Brenden Nel
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Willem Alberts © Gallo Images

It was the fight that made it worthwhile. Not only because it kept their top eight playoff hopes alive, but also because it gave the Lions a chance to show their fight in front of their fans.

Emirates Lions coach Ivan Van Rooyen was all smiles after their exceptional victory over Vodacom United Rugby Championship leaders Glasgow Warriors, not only because of the victory but more because of the way it came - with 14 men on the field after Ruan Venter was red-carded.

The incredible fightback, which saw four second-half tries within 14 minutes that turned the game on its head, gave the Lions a lifeline, and also was good news for the Bulls and Stormers chances for the playoffs.

Van Rooyen praised his team for their singular focus when down to 14, and the way they “played their hearts out” - the second time this season they have done so to rally and win a man down.

“They’re top of the log against teams that have 15. So we knew discipline was one of our focus points for the week. If you are going to give them multiple entries into your 22 then they are going to capitalise from their maul and lineout,” Van Rooyen said on Glasgow’s class.

“I don’t want to elaborate on what happened and if it was a red card or two yellows, but what is true is that with our backs firmly against the wall it frees you up a bit mentally to say just focus, just work, stick to the process, stick to the plan.

“We also got lucky, to be honest, we held them up over the tryline and they kicked the ball dead once or twice. In that moment at halftime, we felt that we were in this, really in this. And we felt that by sticking to our plan, we were putting them under pressure. Well done to the guys, great character, great fight and great discipline to stick to what we wanted to.”

But it was more than that. While their 14 man win at Connacht was something special in the context, the Lions have see-sawed between exceptional and mediocre, struggling for consistency. On Saturday that first half mediocrity was shocked into action by the red card.

And there was nobody that enjoyed it more than Van Rooyen.

“What made it enjoyable, was the effort, was the fight. Guys chasing back for the kick, guys chasing back at every turn. That was really special,” he said.

“Because it was at home, it was more special. It was a bit of a monkey on our back at home. The performance like this, was something that turned that. The last couple of games at home, we got the points, we put in the effort but to see this fight in front of the home fans, probably our last home game of the season.

“There were some significant milestones for this game. To see it happen like this, it makes you heart full.”


The Lions still have a mountain to climb to get into the playoffs though. They need a win against the DHL Stormers, something they last achieved more than two years ago in Cape Town. And it will need to come against a Stormers side intent on trying to finish as high up on the podium as possible as well.

More than that, if the Hollywoodbets Sharks win their EPCR Challenge Cup final against Gloucester this coming weekend, it will mean the Lions will not be able to qualify for next season’s Investec Champions Cup if they finish eighth on the log. That spot will go to the Sharks for winning the Challenge Cup in that case, meaning they have to finish seventh to be able to qualify for the Champions’ Cup.

That is mathematically possible, but they will need Ulster to lose at Munster and the winner of the Benetton-Edinburgh game to not get a four try bonus point, providing they get one themselves in Cape Town.

But tell that to the Lions and they will reply that at halftime on Saturday they looked dead and buried, a man down against the top team in the competition, and they showed what they could do when their backs are against the wall.

Repeating it may be a major task, but they’ve won games against the grain with 14 men twice this season, so who would bet against them in the final game if they find that spark again?