Best of Lions yet to come
REACTION: They are already setting a trend the rest of South Africa may follow, but the Lions believe their best is yet to come.
In the wake of their heart-breaking 3-20 loss to the Hurricanes in the Super Rugby Final in Wellington at the weekend, both captain Warren Whiteley and coach Johan Ackermann said the team will "emerge stronger" from the outcome.
Whiteley spoke of how "proud" he was of the team's effort and said the Hurricanes were "thoroughly deserved winners".
"They were clinical and played territory really well," Whiteley said of the only team to keep them tryless this year.
However, the three year journey that saw them come back from relegation (in 2013) and improve every year - 12th in 2014 with seven wins, eighth last year with nine wins and finalists this year with 13 victories - will not end here.
"We feel the best is yet to come [from these Lions]," Whiteley said in his post-match reaction.
"We will be the same squad next year," he said, adding: "We'll learn from this and come back stronger."
Ackermann also said that despite the result in Wellington there were "a lot more positives than negatives" for his team.
"This season there were some great victories in local derbies - as well as wins over the Crusaders [at home in the quarterfinal] and the Chiefs [away].
"Then there was last weekend, when we won against the Highlanders [in the semifinal], which we as a franchise have not often achieved in the past," he said.
"I'm proud of the guys. The result will hurt, but some individuals will get that opportunity to play for the Springboks.
"The rest of us will go back to the Currie Cup.
"It was an amazing season."
The coach also believes the Lions' refreshing approach to the game may now be taken up by other South African Super Rugby sides.
"There's talks about it," Ackermann said in his post-match creation.
"There's talks about that style, the coaches are thinking, and if we're a small part in that direction then we're grateful for that.
"I think it's possible. We've got the skill at all the provinces, there's a lot of talented players."
The Lions scored more tries than any other Super Rugby team in 2016, although they were kept try-less in the Final.
It is that kind of play which made the Lions popular and respected inside and outside South Africa.
"If it means that other franchises follow suit then great," Ackermann said.
He spoke about the start of the Currie Cup, South Africa's premier domestic competition, which produced 32 tries in three matches on the opening weekend.
"We heard there was a lot of running rugby, a lot of tries scored from a side like the Bulls, so that's great," Ackermann said.
"Maybe we'll see more tries scored by South African sides."
Whether the Springboks will take up that philosophy is another thing, but Ackermann does hope that his players will be rewarded in the Rugby Championship.
"I hope so, but time will tell. You look at the stats, we were up there with a lot of things and there was some great victories, local derbies as well as overseas, you know against the Crusaders and Chiefs.
"I'm proud of the guys. The result will hurt, but hopefully for some of the guys they will get that opportunity to play in the Rugby Championship, while the rest of us will go back to Currie Cup and enjoy that."