Lions proving to be their own worst enemy in Rainbow Cup SA
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JOHANNESBURG - The first 40 minutes that the Lions have played in each of their two Rainbow Cup encounters have been real coach killers.
As against the Bulls in game one, the Lions started off slowly and made several errors in the first half against the Sharks last weekend, which put them on the back foot and immediately chasing the game.
This was especially true of the initial 30 minutes or so, when they were under oodles of pressure in their set-piece, defence and general game management, and found themselves trailing 24-5.
Again, as was the case with the Bulls encounter, as the match progressed the Joburgers improved, but the damage had been done, and overturning those errors proved a bridge too far for Ivan van Rooyen’s team.
“That first half, that first 30 minutes, was obviously a bit frustrating for us,” Van Rooyen agreed after the match in Durban.
“We felt in those last 10 minutes (of the first half) we came back physically and mentally a lot stronger. The Sharks managed to put our skill set and set-piece, everything in that first 30 minutes, under pressure.
“We looked a little bit flat in that first 30 minutes to be honest, but once we got the ball, and once we got playing, I felt we looked and played a lot better.”
It is true, the Lions enjoyed the better of the possession (60%) and territory (66%) in the second half, but they just couldn’t overcome a lacklustre first-half performance, or the doggedness of the Sharks’ defence, eventually losing 34-26.
What continues to be worrisome for the technical staff and supporters alike is the Lions’ defence. Against the Bulls they had a 79% tackle completion rate, and on Saturday it plummeted to 69% as they missed 22 tackles.
The Sharks had an 89% tackle success, and made almost 40 more, which kept the Lions at bay in the second half.
This, coupled with their inability to make an impression from the start and take their opportunities, has haunted the Lions in the first set of matches, and Van Rooyen will need to find immediate solutions to both problems this week as they prepare for the Stormers.
That match on Saturday will be the first at Emirates Airline Park this season for a Lions side packed with youngsters, as a core of older heads continue to recuperate from various ailments.
This weekend might see desperate stuff from both teams, as both have lost their first two matches. It might be more desperate for the Stormers, who have had the luxury of homeground advantage against the Sharks and Bulls, only to lose both.
Despite another loss, the Lions did hold their own … eventually.
It might have taken 30 minutes to do so but they found a bit of momentum and rhythm as the game progressed – it just came too late to turn defeat into victory.
Against the Stormers, they must put in a full 80-minute performance, they must trust their defensive system, and make first-time tackles, and they must fire on all cylinders from the get-go.
The Lions now have a three-game home stretch before them and they must take full advantage of Ellis Park to overturn a disappointing start to the tournament.