The Emirates Lions have become synonymous with playing a very different brand of rugby in recent years compared to the rest of the countries unions.
After taking over from John Mitchel in 2013, Johan Ackermann quickly earned a reputation for throwing caution to the wind and experimenting with a different approach to the game with and the successthe Lions had was a direct result of this.
The biggest element of this success has been the freedom the players have to play their natural game which has been a catalyst for the turn around that saw the side earn two Super Rugby final appearances in the last two years.
The innovative Swys de Bruin
Sometimes overshadowed by the looming six foot four Ackermann, de Bruins contribution to the red outfit has been the innovation injected into a style of play that is now talked about as the most attractive in the competition and even more so since taking over the team.
One doesn’t have to watch much of a Lions game to see them do something slightly unorthodox but usually very effective and as a result, the team is rewriting all sorts of manuals of how rugby is supposed to be played.
With de Bruin now at the helm, this has only increased and last week, a stunning try (see blow) was scored against the Bulls from a line out in the 22 metre line with Warren Whitely popping back a lobbed throw in into Ross Cronje who then ran it in.
Elton Jantjies set free
From an early age, Elton Jantjies was dubbed as the attacking minded fly half that South Africa has never had, issues with consistency and form were no better highlighted than his dreadful loan stint at the Stormers in 2013.
Since his return to the Lions, Jantjies has been a different player and is the key that unlocks the Lions backline which has turned teams inside out on many occasions.
A player of confidence, he thrives when he is given the freedom to experiment which is why there is a notable difference to his game play when playing for the Lions compared to the Springboks when a more structured game plan is in place.
Earning the right the experiment
Commentators often talk about earning the right to go wide in terms of spreading the ball to the wings. In the Lions case, they earn the right to experiment and try new things by the forwards setting down a solid platform.
While it is often the Lions backline that gets all the credit, the opportunity to play the way they do is provided by a scrum which has become so dominant that it now bolsters five Springbok capped players.
All the Lions forwards do is make sure they do the basics right and as a result, they earn themselves the few occasions to make mistakes before the experiment eventually works which as we have seen has been enough.
Can they go all the way?
Considering the two finals in the last two years, there is no longer any doubt as to the quality and the talent within the team.
That being said, they are also gaining a reputation for not being able to pitch up when it counts the most, usually in the play off games.
A brilliant win against the Hurricanes in the semi final was shortly cancelled out by a poor performance against the Crusaders in the final.
If the Lions are to achieve the ultimate prize of a Super Rugby title, they will need to overcome this mental block they have and prove that a title can be won whilst playing expansive and exciting rugby.