When Kevin de Klerk arrived at Ellis Park in 2009, to step into the Golden Lions hotseat, he inherited a near bankrupt union in turmoil.
For a man who won two Currie Cup titles as a player, the first as a 21-year-old in 1971, and can list a series victory over the All Blacks on his resume, the former Springbok lock was used to success.
However, the mess he found in 2009 was unlike anything the successful businessman had ever experienced.
Players had threatened to go on strike and the Golden Lions had just been handed a record 74-10 defeat by the British and Irish Lions, after then head coach Eugene Eloff was forcefully removed from office.
Those were tumultuous and trying times and drastic action was needed to right a sinking ship in the country's financial capital.
However, this week De Klerk could afford sit back, albeit briefly, and reflect on the steep climb the Lions took back to the top of the South African rugby standings.
Of the thousands of words penned on the team since the Lions' Currie Cup triumph at the weekend, few can sum up that journey as accurate as those used by the Golden Lions Rugby Union President, De Klerk, when he said it was all achieved with "unwanted goods" - players not required by the more successful unions like the Blue Bulls, Western Province, Sharks and Cheetahs.
De Klerk, in an exclusive and all-encompassing interview with rugby365.com, reflected on how they struggled to find players, coaching staff and the right administrators to save a union on the brink of bankruptcy ... a outfit once regarded as the richest provincial union in the world.
"Firstly, I must say that we are grateful, but we must remain humble, because we know what is still ahead," he told this website.
"When I was brought in just over two years ago, my inaugural speech to them was: 'Boys, we must get back to the team.'
"It was a totally fragmented identity here at the Lions. The senior team went and trained at Fourways, then only came through [to the Ellis Park Stadium] for the game on Saturday ... and sometimes they didn't even 'pitch'," he quipped, reflecting on what he found when he was asked to take over as President.
Coming from the amateur days, when money was not the issue and there was always a special bond between players, he set about - with the help of his dedicated staff - to restore pride in the Rooibont (red-and-white) jersey.
"I always experienced rugby as a family," De Klerk said, adding: "I wanted to bring back that culture, how we told tales, sang songs - we had to move closer to our shop window, the senior team."
Those initial months were not easy and neither was the following year, 2010.
But, along the way and almost unnoticed, there was progress - even though trouble never seemed far away, such as the acrimonious public spat with their equity partners, GUMA Trust, this year.
Back in 2009 and with a stand-in coach in place the Lions finished not just outside the play-off places, but sixth in an eight-team Currie Cup competition - with just seven wins in 14 starts. A year later, with John Mitchell having arrived in Johannesburg just months earlier, there was some progress - fifth place on the standings.
This year, with Mitchell having had a full year to work with the players, they not only finished top of the standings, but went on to beat both Western Province (with six World Cup Springboks) and the Sharks (with seven World Cup Boks) in the semifinal and Final of the Currie Cup competition.
The Super Rugby improvement may not have been as dramatic, but from a record 13 successive defeats in 2010, the Lions managed to avoid not only last place but record three victories and a draw - with two of those wins and the draw coming in the last five weeks.
There will be sound arguments about 'mental fatigue' and a 'lack of time' to reintroduce the Boks.
But it does not, as De Klerk pointed out, take away from the fact that with a very limited budget they managed to find a group of hungry players keen to prove a point.
Of the 22 players who featured in the 42-16 win over the Sharks in last Saturday's Final, at least 10 can be categorised as those "unwanted goods" the Lions boss spoke about.
They include Alwyn Hollenbach (who struggled to find his way back into the Cheetahs team after a series of injury setbacks), Michael Bondesio (joined the Lions in 2010 from the Leopards), Joshua Strauss (a University of Stellenbosch product who was unwanted in the Western Cape), Michael Rhodes (signed with the Lions at the end of the 2010, after struggling for game time at the Sharks - especially after Jean Deysel and Willem Alberts arrived in Durban from Johannesburg), Patric Cilliers (having struggled for game time at the Sharks, despite playing for the Emerging Boks in 2009), Bandise Maku (moved across the Jukskei from Pretoria to Johannesburg after he grew tired of waiting in line behind fellow Boks Gary Botha and Chiliboy Ralepelle at the Bulls), CJ van der Linde (something of a nomad, but was unwanted in Cape Town - despite having signed for the Stormers at the start of 2011), Warren Whiteley (a product of the Sharks Academy that found himself surplus to requirements in Durban), Dylan Des Fountain (another nomadic player who started with the Bulls, then returned to his hometown, Cape Town, for a stint with the Stormers, before a brief spell at Viadana Aironi in Italy) and James Kamana (moved to Johannesburg after being axed after from the New Zealand Sevens team).
De Klerk admitted that the lack of financial resources meant they could not compete for big name stars on the open marked.
Just three Springboks moved from elsewhere to Ellis Park in the past two years - 2007 World Cup winners CJ van der Linde and Butch James, as well as Bandise Maku.
"Mostly [they were] unwanted goods from other unions," De Klerk told this website. adding: ""These guys all came to the party and stood their ground."
But, as they say, success breeds success.
"We all know that you have to win - just look what happened Saturday, the unbelievable outpouring of emotion.
"I am getting calls from all over the country telling us they are happy with our Currie Cup win.
"That was one of our goals [to win the Currie Cup] and we are grateful for having achieved that, but we are a long way off from where we want to be."
The next step, obviously, is to replicate this form on the Super Rugby stage - a task De Klerk readily admits is a very tall order.
"Obviously the other province will have their sights set on us now, they will want to knock us off," the Lions boss said.
"But I have full confidence in our coaching structures and the union, as we look ahead. We are focussed on remaining successful for year to come, we have had far too many lean years."
Asked about goals for 2012's Super Rugby season, De Klerk said he would like to see the team finish in the top half of the standings.
"If we look back at this [past] year's Super Rugby season, the Bulls [24-20] and Stormers [19-16] didn't beat us by that much, while we beat the Cheetahs and drew with the Sharks.
"Even against the Reds [the eventual champions] we only lost by five points [25-30].
"Our kicking let us down a bit [in those games], but Elton Jantjies and Jaco Taute are working exceptionally hard on that," he said about Jantjies, who kicked 15 out of 15 in the Currie Cup semifinal and Final, while fullback Taute landed a 60-metre penalty in the Final.
"We know what could have been [in 2011], but we are certainly expecting a far more productive Super Rugby season in 2012."
By Jan de Koning
* In Part Two of our interview we talk with De Klerk about the coaching changes over the past two years, while in Part Three we discuss administrative issues - including some 'right-sizing' currently underway.
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