JOHANNESBURG – Following a disappointing Super Rugby campaign, the Lions will be out to make amends from this weekend when the 2019 edition of the Currie Cup competition kicks off.
Here, we point out five areas where they’ll want to see an improvement in their game from Super Rugby and where they’ll want to build depth ahead of next year’s competition.
Sort out the defence
Only the Sunwolves (85) conceded more tries than the Lions (64) in this year’s Super Rugby competition. For a team that played in the final between 2016 and 2018 that is simply not good enough. Perhaps the poor tackle record had something to do with defence coach Joey Mongalo’s on-going court case in Australia, but the Lions have made a change for the Currie Cup, bringing in former high school coaching star and Lions U-21 boss Sean Erasmus.
The union will hope he gets something sorted out because the Lions won’t win anything if they continue to leak so many tries.
Find a midfield
Gone are Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Franco Naude, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Howard Mnisi ... so now what? Well, it’s going to be up to stand-in coach Ivan van Rooyen (in the absence of Swys de Bruin) to find players in the coming weeks who’ll be able to step up in Super Rugby next year. Rookie former U-21 star Wandisile Simelane has a chance to show what he can do, while regular flyhalf Shaun Reynolds and outside back Tyrone Green will most probably also get a run in the centres.
Also, expect a few new names to pop up in the midfield in the coming weeks.
Settle on a hooker
It wasn’t that long ago that the Lions were well stocked at hooker; they had Malcolm Marx, Robbie Coetzee, Akker van der Merwe and Corne Fourie on their books. Well, none of those men will feature in the Currie Cup over the next few months, and none will play Super Rugby for the Lions next year. Coetzee, Van der Merwe and Fourie have left the union, while Marx will be in Japan in the first six months of next year.
Step up then Jan-Henning Campher, the rookie who played behind Marx this year, but who’ll be his back up - now and next season - is anyone’s guess.
Play with freedom
In the years between 2016 and 2018 when the Lions played in three Super Rugby finals they threatened the top of the list in the try-scoring statistics, but this year managed to cross the whitewash on just 53 occasions - 20 less than the Crusaders.
They looked like a team that was scared to play; they were hesitant and the freedom and flair that made them so watchable previously was for some reason too often absent.
Find a tighthead
Ever since their return to Super Rugby in 2014 the Lions have had a world class tighthead anchor their scrum - think Julian Redelinghuys, Ruan Dreyer and this year, the rookie loan player from the Cape, Carlu Sadie. None of them are available for the Lions. Forwards boss Philip Lemmer and scrum coach Redelinghuys now have to find a new No 3 - and the question is, will they look to turn a loosehead into a tighthead or find a specialist?
They’ve got options. Let the search commence.@jacq_west