Despite some compelling late form lifting the Lions to a third successive Super Rugby final, it can’t be denied that they’ve generally endured a difficult campaign.
Seven losses in their 16 regular season matches attested to some of their struggles.
However, they also had a fair amount of luck on their side in terms of other results going their way.
How would the Lions’ season have turned out if these results didn’t go their way?
Lions 40 – Sunwolves 38 (Week 5, Ellis Park)
At the time it seemed as if this hassle was merely the Lions being complacent against opponents they hammered 94-7 in 2017.
With the benefit of hindsight though, this result proved massive in the greater scheme of things.
After all, the Lions and Jaguares finished on the same amount of victories in the South African conference.
An unexpected reverse in this match would’ve initially seemed like a careless mistake.
Imagine if it had proven to be the death knell to the Lions campaign…
Waratahs 0 – Lions 29 (Week 10, Sydney)
Team management were right in not trying to become too excited over what looked a comprehensive victory.
Indeed, the Lions were made to work hard for their platform in this match and only eventually grabbed the opportunities presented to them.
Nonetheless, it was a fine start to what was going to become a particularly difficult tour of Australasia.
The Lions lost their remaining three fixtures, looking a deflated and perhaps even baffled outfit when they came home.
But one also sensed that the one big victory on tour was the one factor that kept their fragile confidence intact.
Stormers 23 – Lions 26 (Week 15, Newlands)
No Warren Whiteley, no Malcolm Marx.
Times were becoming difficult for the Lions ahead of the international break.
The previous week they’d disposed of the Brumbies 42-24 but only after a flurry late in the game.
An uncomfortable trip to Newlands, where the Stormers – despite their poor overall form – had only lost once in 2018, would’ve sent a few jitters through the camp and its supporters.
But the Lions’ patched-up side kept their composure well after falling 17-7 behind.
That said, it took them up until the 76th minute to exploit Raymond Rhule’s red card for the winning try.
Bulls 43 – Jaguares 34 (Week 18, Loftus)
A week earlier, the Lions slipped up with a late slump against the Sharks in Durban.
It left them in a precarious position, just three log points ahead of the Jaguares and sitting helplessly from the sidelines due to their bye.
They could see their top spot in the conference drifting away as the Argentinians raced into a 19-0 lead.
However, John Mitchell’s troops somehow sprung to life and produced a stirring (if flawed) comeback that was pretty much down to the Jaguares’ own wastefulness.
The door was left open.
Waratahs 31 – Brumbies 40 (Week 19, Sydney)
‘Tahs skipper Bernard Foley revealed earlier this week that this was the slip-up that derailed his side’s season.
All they needed to do was to beat their down-and-out neighbours to sew up second place on the overall log, secure a potential home semi as well as the battered Jaguares in the quarters.
More importantly, it would’ve left the Lions with the far more taxing task of facing the Highlanders in the last eight … and travelling overseas for the rest of the knockouts.
But they were switched off from the start and paid the price.