The only bit of good news coming out of the Lions camp this week is that, for the first time this season, coach John Mitchell will in all likelihood name the same 22 players who did duty last weekend for Saturday’s match against the Reds.
All the players who faced the Blues last weekend were given a clean bill of health on Sunday and after 13 weeks of action the Lions will be a “settled” unit.
That, unfortunately, is where the good news ends.
Their defeat in Auckland last weekend was their 74th in 90 outings since they split from the Cheetahs (Cats) in 2006 and they’re on a run of nine straight losses, which has left them rooted to the bottom of the table.
Their performances this season, or, for that matter, over the last few years in Super Rugby won’t help union president Kevin de Klerk when he discusses the Southern Kings issue with South African Rugby Union representatives tomorrow when the bodies meet to discuss the make-up of South Africa’s participation in Super Rugby next year. Right now the Lions are the team in danger of losing out to the Kings.
With that on their minds, the Lions players are preparing to face a Reds team in Brisbane which isn’t easily beaten on home soil. That said, the Lions did manage to beat the Reds at home in 2007 (26-20) and 2009 (31-20) ... but it must be remembered those were among the Reds’s most lean years. In 2007 they won just twice and finished last on the log, while in 2009 they bagged three wins and finished second from last.
In 2010 and last year the Reds beat the Lions at Coca-Cola Park and they went on to win the title last season.
While the team from Brisbane have had a tough year in 2012 – with several key players out with injury – they’ve found some form of late and their recent perfor-mances suggest they’ll have little difficulty in beating Mitchell’s tourists. While the Lions are coming off a string of defeats, the Reds go into Saturday’s game having walloped New Zealand’s best team, the Chiefs (42-27), and before that they came close against the Crusaders (11-15), and before that they won against the Blues (23-11) – the last two matches away from home.
Mitchell will be hoping for a much improved performance from his players this week after all they could show for their effort against the Blues was a first half penalty by Elton Jantjies.
The Lions also became the first team this season to not score a five-pointer against the former champions.
It’s been a tough few weeks for the Lions, but it’s something they’re all too familiar with and there’s going to be no let up as Super Rugby 2012 runs to its conclusion.
After this week, they head to Perth and the Western Force before returning home.
Lions (probable): Andries Coetzee, Deon van Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe, Jaco Taute, Michael Killian, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronjé, Joshua Strauss (capt), Grant Hattingh, Derick Minnie, Ruan Botha, Franco van der Merwe, Patric Cilliers, Callie Visagie, JC Janse van Rensburg. Replacements: Martin Bezuidenhout, CJ van der Linde, Cobus Grobbelaar, Jaco Kriel, Tian Meyer, Ruan Combrinck, James Kamana. John Mitchell is set to name the same 22 for Lions for the first time this season.