Ruan Combrinck’s monumental moment has kept alive the Lions Super Rugby season and Combrinck will be equally crucial to the Springboks’ Rugby Championship.
Every exceptional team needs exceptional individuals, whose most significant contributions come in the most testing of times.
Combrinck, from the moment he played Test rugby, was influential in the big plays. He is a player who finds the out of the ordinary. He did so in his first international series against the Irish and this past weekend he showed the temperament and the skill set to drive home the Lions ambitions for a first ever Super Rugby title.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann, in the aftermath of the Lions dramatic 23-21 semi-final win against the Sharks, admitted he didn’t think taking aim from 55 metres (on the angle of the kick) was the right decision.
Ackermann said conservatism was his doubt at the time because he still felt the Lions, as a collective, could manufacture a points opportunity in the last two minutes of the game if his team were close the Sharks tryline.
What so impressed Ackermann was that the only player who didn’t doubt it was the right decision was the player who took on the responsibility.
Ackermann, always reluctant to single out individuals at the expense of a team effort, couldn’t but help publicly applaud the moment that could prove the most defining in the Lions Super Rugby history.
Ackermann, in his five years as the Lions coach, has always instilled a belief within the players that if they believed in what they did in a particular moment then it was never a failed moment, regardless of the outcome.
Ackermann has always believed that if a player has respect for the essence of getting the basics right then the player has earned the right to trust his natural instincts.
It’s this quality that he most applauded in Combrinck’s match-winning effort.
The 78th minute moment demanded a player wanted the opportunity to create something special and Combrinck recognized that moment.
Lions flyhalf and first choice goalkicker Elton Jantjies was no longer on the field and Combrinck had missed his only penalty kick as the back-up choice. The solitary failure only reinforced the conviction from Combrinck that if he didn’t try he would die wondering.
Australia’s legendary Rugby League coach Wayne Bennett was renowned for telling his players never to let the music die within. Bennett was big on his players never having regrets for a fear of failure. He always applauded the player who stepped up when the team needed it most and there was no guarantee of delivery.
Jantjies, this season, has averaged 80-percent with his goalkicking. His international goalkicking average is just shy of 80-percent. His goalkicking, for the Lions, has always been one of the team’s strengths. In this particular semi-final Jantjies missed two conversions and two penalties. The misses were out of character but the character of the Lions team is that when one of their pillars of strength proved vulnerable another player provided the strength.
The Sharks will be gutted with the defeat because on the balance of play they deserved the victory.
Saturday’s defeat for the Sharks, in isolation, was the wrong result, but in the context of the South African Super Rugby season, it was the right result.
The Lions are South Africa’s best Super Rugby team and the most likely to win the title because of their quality and the favourable home play-off situation.
The Sharks, having to travel to New Zealand for a semi-final and final, would not have made it past the semi-final. They currently are not good enough. Equally he Stormers. They also are a team on the rise but not a team that has yet risen to the top.
The Sharks and Stormers won respect for their mongrel and fight and that will add to the confidence within the Springboks in the Rugby Championship.
The Lions, in their most indifferent performance of the year, also showed great fight to somehow win.
They now need to show more than fight to go all the way and Combrinck’s moment will be the catalyst that win or lose the title these Lions will never die wondering.