The Lions are still a work in progress
JOHANNESBURG - It has been an eventful and at times exhilarating past month for South African rugby as the preparation series of matches have produced an exciting brand of rugby that has been enjoyable to watch.
The Lions have gone about their business in similar fashion as they formulate their game plan for the upcoming but yet to be finalised Rainbow Cup, which is scheduled to start next month.
Here we look at aspects in the Lions’ matches that have worked, and a couple that still need to be improved as they get ready to take on the Stormers this weekend in their final pre-season match.
The youth stepping up
Against the Sharks, head coach Ivan van Rooyen selected a nice mix of young players and more senior campaigners.
The match's structure might have been a free-for-all at times as both sides opted to run with ball-in-hand, but it doesn't change the fact that a bunch of those younger players made an impression.
If you consider that loose trio Francke Horn, Vincent Tshituka and MJ Pelser are all still Under23 players, while the likes of Ngia Selengbe, Wandisile Simelane, Reinhard Nothnagel, Nathan McBeth and Sibusiso Sangweni, to name a few, also hover around that age, then it becomes apparent the Lions have a bevy of exciting talent.
Let's hope they get another run against the Stormers.
NEEDS ATTENTION Game management and decision-making
This is not entirely the fault of the players or the coaching staff.
The recent matches, save perhaps the Pumas game, were all about attacking rugby, and in that aspect it has been exciting to watch.
Decision-making is one of Van Rooyen's biggest aspects as a coach and he rightly emphasises it at every opportunity.
During these pre-season matches, where a helter-skelter approach has been the norm with all the teams, it has perhaps suffered the most.
Against the Sharks, the inability to slow down the pace, take control of the game, and weigh up all their options nearly cost the Lions victory.
Even with the running rugby employed, it might not be the worst idea to revert to a more conservative game plan to instil the need for better decision-making in the future.
The line-outs are sharp
So far, the loss of Springbok lock Marvin Orie has had little negative impact on the set-piece.
There are sterner examination to come in the future, of course, but so far the line-out has been excellent overall.
The jumpers, led by Reinhard Nothnagel at first, and most recently Wilhelm van der Sluys, have not missed a step, building a solid foundation for the team to build on and attack from.
NEEDS ATTENTION The defence and discipline
Again, what do you do as a coach when the clear instruction is to run everything without the consequence of losing anything in the bigger picture?
The Lions have nonetheless conceded 13 tries during their three matches with 92 points scored against them in the process. Their attack has answered in kind, for sure, scoring 16 tries and compiling 127 points.
It is a measure of how much propensity has been given by all the teams to play a running brand of rugby. As such, the defensive systems have not been of the highest standard, and likewise, the discipline has been under-par, with penalties galore and a handful of yellow cards to boot.
The Lions have let in some soft tries in recent weeks, so while an expansive game makes it difficult to snuff out all the try-scoring opportunities, the main focus should be on tightening up against the Stormers.