Johannesburg - With 35 tries in the bag the Lions are the leading attacking team in the Currie Cup, but three defeats on the road has left them in sixth place and in a desperate fight to make the top four and the playoffs.
It’s a far cry from their 12-match unbeaten run to lift the title last year and their impressive showing in Super Rugby earlier this year, a run that saw them go all the way to the final.
So what has gone wrong in the last six weeks? Why are Johan Ackermann’s men all of a sudden struggling?
The biggest difference 12 months on from that stunning Currie Cup campaign is that the Lions are now minus several first choice players who’re running out for the Boks, unlike last year. Now Ackermann has to do without Julian Redelinghuys, Malcolm Marx, Franco Mostert, Jaco Kriel, Warren Whiteley, Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe and Ruan Combrinck.
But, says Ackermann, his team’s sensational run in Super Rugby is probably more to blame for the wobbles the Currie Cup team are experiencing now.
“If anything, after last year’s Super Rugby campaign (when the Lions didn’t feature in the playoffs) we had five weeks off before the start of the Currie Cup.
“In that time we were able to get closure on the Super Rugby competition and start anew for the Currie Cup. We had time to reset and re-establish our goals and as any player will tell you the time spent together on the training ground, the fun the players have together and the hard sessions they endure together brings them closer as a team.
“We never had that sort of time together this year,” said Ackermann.
Also, said the coach, “The Super Rugby team landed late on the Sunday and the next week we were playing Currie Cup rugby. The young players who came into the squad hadn’t played in four weeks and the senior Super Rugby guys were still very disappointed after losing the final (in Wellington).
“And now we’ve expected the seniors to perform and deliver each week, guys like Ross Cronje and Howard Mnisi and others … and they’ve not had a week off. It’s catching us now,” said Ackermann.
The Lions have especially been disappointing away from home, losing all three matches on the road – 24-30 to Griquas, 17-31 to the Bulls and 29-37 to the Cheetahs. At home they’ve hammered their opponents; 68-26 (Pumas), 60-12 (Boland) and 58-32 (WP).
“Our away form has been disappointing, maybe because the players are more familiar with playing at Ellis Park; they know the environment and their family and friends are there. We must remember this is a young Lions team in many respects; the average age of the pack is 22,” explained Ackermann.
“There’s enough talent, that’s for sure, and the players make it tough for me each week to pick a team … but we need to face the challenge now and get the maximum points in our final two games.”
The Lions face the EP Kings away on Saturday and the Sharks in their final game at home next weekend.