Why Ellis Park will be packed

There’s a good reason why more than 60 000 people will be at Ellis Park tonight for the final Super Rugby play-off between the Lions and the Kings tonight.

It’s not reduced ticket prices that have pulled the crowds. Rugby fans are drawn to the occasion because there’s so much at stake. In UK football,

promotion-relegation games are often the most lucrative.

A similar dynamic is at work here. For the winning franchise the prospects are bright, while the losers will struggle in the coming seasons. Existing players will lose heart and drift off to other teams. The losing side will also have trouble attracting new talent.

At this level, rugby is a business, which makes tonight’s contest almost a matter of life and death for the two franchises.

Lions fans and players are still smarting at the way their side was dumped from Super Rugby this year at the expense of the Kings, who did not have to play any promotion-relegation games. Some revenge was exacted when they beat the Kings in Port Elizabeth last week. But the Lions’ return to Super Rugby is not guaranteed unless they stay ahead tonight.

While the Ellis Park faithful have reason to be confident and optimistic, it will not be a walkover.

The Kings surprised many sceptics in their first year of Super Rugby, winning three games and drawing one. Although they were boosted by wildly partisan PE crowds, they can also produce the goods when playing away. Nor will the departure for Edinburgh of their director Alan Solomons necessarily be demotivating.

The Kings will be up for it. The Lions will have to give everything to restore pride in Johannesburg rugby. They must work for the place they deserve.

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