If ever there was a moment when Lions fans could point to the resurgence in their franchise, it was in 2011.
John Mitchell’s first season with the team not only transformed them into a hungry unit that swept all before them, but also gave a long suffering franchise their first Currie Cup title in years as they romped past the Sharks in the final.
Considering the Lions finished last in Super Rugby the year before and had lost all their games, the transformation into a winning outfit by Mitchell was nothing short of spectacular.
The win was their biggest win in a final since 1990 and considering the Sharks were the defending champions, it made it even more memorable.
That Mitchell turned the team into champions was a great feat considering that it was their first outright Currie Cup victory since 1950 and their first title since 1999 after losing the finals of 2002 and 2007. Having been the pace setters all season they were led by an impeccable performance by Elton Jantjies, who scored 24 points on the day, and announced his arrival as one of the top flyhalves in the country.
Mitchell said afterward in his biography that the Lions, who didn’t pick their Springboks on the way to the final, while the Sharks did, made the right choice and this was the difference between the two.
Mitchell’s post match comments showed just how much it meant to the side.
“People assumed I was crazy to take the job as Lions coach, but I love a challenge and my dream was to restore the pride that was once here in Johannesburg. I know it’s been a frustrating number of years for all Lions fans, who probably had to turn the telly upside down to see their team on top of the log,” he said after the win.
“The results weren’t going the team’s way and that hurts because supporters have an emotional connection to their team. I’m very happy with what has been achieved over the last 16 months.”
The victory started the journey that Johan Ackermann would take over and take the team to three consecutive Super Rugby finals. The Lions legacy was back, and this game cemented them as a top franchise again in SA Rugby.
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