Lions coach Johan Ackermann praised his team’s superior first-half performance and the impact of his bench at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Golden Lions coach Johan Ackermann believes his team’s superior first-half performance and the impact his replacements had on the game resulted in their 50-20 semi-final victory over the Sharks at Ellis Park on Saturday.
“When you are in a semi-final and you build up that kind of lead, it is always difficult to come back and we put a lot of faith in our bench to finish it off and that is exactly what happened,” said Ackermann.
“As they got momentum back, one or two of our bench guys made a difference again, so that was a 22-man effort and it worked out well as we planned.”
The Golden Lions face Western Province at Newlands in Cape Town for the title, making it their first appearance in a final since they won the coveted golden cup in 2011.
The two teams were deserving finalists as they had been the in-form sides throughout the season, playing expansive styles of rugby.
The Lions built a strong foundation in the first half against the Sharks, scoring three tries to go into the break leading 23-3.
Although the Sharks launched a creditable fight back in the second half, the Lions added three more tries – with two at the death – to bag a comprehensive victory over last year’s champions.
The scoreline might suggest a run-away victory but Lions captain Warren Whiteley said the Sharks put up a strong fight.
“It was tough and I don’t think that score is a true reflection of the game as a whole,” said Whiteley.
“During the week, the coach told us that we’ve got to express ourselves and we’ve got to do what we’ve been doing throughout the season.”
It was the Golden Lions’ superior scrumming performance in the first half which acted as chief destroyer of the Durban side.
The visitors had few answers for the demolishing scrums and could count themselves lucky not to have conceded a penalty try early in the match.
Whiteley said his team grew in confidence on the back of those scrums which dealt hefty blows to the Sharks.
“We build a lot of pressure with our scrums – we perhaps didn’t get the reward in terms of penalties or yellow cards but I think in that second half it really tired them out and it was probably also psychological,” he said.
“We definitely get a lot of confidence out of our scrums and set-pieces and I am really proud of the boys.”
The Lions suffered an early blow when influential openside flanker Jaco Kriel was forced off the field with a hamstring injury just before the half-time break.
Kriel had a massive hand his side’s first-half performance, scoring a try and contributing richly to another.
Ackermann said the team would have their fingers crossed that Kriel would recover in time for the Currie Cup final.
“He’s got a sore hamstring. We can’t say how serious it is because all the tests still need to be done but he was immense in that first half,” said Ackermann.
“It will be a pity if we don’t have him, but we will put everything into get him ready for the final. He is a quality player and hopefully he will start and get a look in for higher honours because I don’t think he will let any side down.”