Even before kick-off‚ the Golden Lions were up against it in the Currie Cup semi-final they lost 33-24 to the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
Swys de Bruin‚ the Lions’ Super Rugby coach and boss of all coaching affairs at the franchise‚ made a beeline for this writer and a former Springbok seated in Kings Park’s media centre.
De Bruin was keen to share the news that the Golden Lions’ task had become even tougher after grizzled tighthead prop Jacobie Adriaanse was ruled out and that young Chergin Fillies would start the match.
De Bruin sought to lower expectations of his team against the brutish Sharks pack but to be fair‚ the Golden Lions were on the backfoot long before.
Their leadership has been in a state of flux this season‚ which impacted the office of their president‚ head coach and even the Currie Cup captaincy‚ which changed hands from Ross Cronjé to Marvin Orie‚ back to Cronjé and then Nic Groom.
De Bruin‚ who had accompanied the team to Durban‚ was seated in the press box while his coaching team took up customary position behind glass inside the coaches’ box.
When substitutions were called‚ De Bruin would turn to his colleagues and with hand gestures encourage the next move.
The Golden Lions have had to do things in a round about way because of De Bruin’s involvement with the Springboks.
He could only spend limited time with the Golden Lions and former strength and conditioning coach Ivan van Rooyen was curiously appointed to the hot seat.
De Bruin having to pull the strings via remote control was hardly ideal.
On the field too decision-making lines were slightly blurred.
Scrumhalf Nic Groom only recently took over as captain but No 8 Warren Whiteley’s restoration to fitness meant that he was always going to play a leadership role in the heat of battle in Durban.
He was certainly the one mostly engaged in conversation with the referee Marius van der Westhuizen‚ whose performance for the record‚ perhaps explains why he has disappeared off World Rugby’s sought after refereeing panel.
In the build up to the match it was explained that Groom‚ for the purpose of continuity‚ would wear the armband in Durban as Whiteley’s availability for the final‚ should the Golden Lions reach it‚ could not be guaranteed.
Whiteley spread himself around the park‚ especially in defence‚ as the Golden Lions spent much of the match scrambling.
As predicted too‚ young Fillies‚ and you have to feel for him‚ buckled in the scrum‚ while the Golden Lions were bossed in the collisions.
They did‚ however‚ stage a remarkable comeback after falling 23-3 behind after 41 minutes and got themselves to within two points before the Sharks sealed the match.
In defeat‚ Van Rooyen pointed to the positives.
“It is obviously a massive challenge playing an away semifinal‚ especially in Durban‚ with the wind pumping like that‚” said the coach.
“Obviously it hurts.
“For the union it was a massive step forward.
“During the season we played 11 to 13 under 21 players.
“We finished the game with between four and six. Four of the tight five we finished with are u21. Obviously the result is disappointing but it is a big step ahead.
“It was a great opportunity for us.
“We’ve got a young pack of forwards. The Sharks handled the pressure well in the last five to 10 minutes but I’m very proud of the guys.”
He was particularly pleased the team did not drop their bundle at 23-3 down.
“We always stand for good work ethic‚ honesty and character‚” he said.
“We had a moment or a decision to either lay down or stand up and fight. Obviously I’m proud of the guys to stand up and fight.”