Golden Lions head coach Swys de Bruin lauded the impact of his returning Springboks after their resounding 44-17 Currie Cup win over the Cheetahs at Ellis Park at the weekend.
Scoring five tries to two in front of a crowd of 8 433 spectators, the Lions qualified for the semifinals.
They set up a clash against Western Province at Newlands on Saturday (2.30pm), while the Sharks will host the storming Blue Bulls in the second play-off (5pm).
Had it not been for a surprise Province win in Durban, the Lions could have hosted one of the playoffs, with the Joburg side helping the Bulls into the semifinals by denying the Cheetahs bonus points.
“Their intercept try gave them a sniff, but I’m very happy to have climbed from last at one stage (in the standings) to third. It took a big effort,” De Bruin said.
Wing Courtnall Skosan, fullback Andries Coetzee, scrumhalf Ross Cronje and hooker Malcolm Marx added impetus, but the biggest stars were flyhalf Jaco van der Walt, flank Cyle Brink and centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
“The Boks played like Boks and gave the side great confidence, while the youngsters did extremely well,” De Bruin said.
The youngsters to whom he was referring included Len Massyn, the new find at openside flank, and wing Aphiwe Dyantyi.
The impact of Marx and prop Dylan Smith from the bench also turned the scales in the Lions’ favour.
“There were four disallowed tries which could have made the score quite substantial, but I would have been happy with a 3-0 result as well,” De Bruin said.
“Those two KES boys (Marx and Smith) have been playing together since grade eight and made a big difference together with (flank) Cyle (Brink, another KES boy). They were great.”
The Lions had two potential injury concerns after bumps to lock Marvin Orie and Janse van Rensburg, but De Bruin was sure they would be ready to face Province.
“We struggled a bit in the lineouts. Marvin got a knock in the 10th minute but the team doctor said he will be fine,” he said.
“Rohan’s injury is also not too serious.”
De Bruin, meanwhile, expressed his surprise with Province’s relatively easy 31-20 victory over the Sharks.
“To beat the Sharks like that, and also in Durban, took some doing,” he said.