JOHANNESBURG – The Lions have reached the halfway point in this year’s Super Rugby competition. They have a 50% win record, having lost four times, and find themselves in fifth place in the SA Conference.
It’s been a very different campaign to the previous three years when they reached the final and here we point out what we have learned of the 2019 Lions team so far:
Missing experienced players
Already last year they were without former stars Ruan Ackermann and Faf de Klerk, but since then several other big name stars have left for Europe and left big holes to fill. Coach Swys de Bruin has found it hard to replace lock Franco Mostert, props Ruan Dreyer and Jacques van Rooyen and backup hookers Corne Fourie and Akker van der Merwe.
Grafter Andries Ferreira also left the union, as did powerful centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg and excellent flanker Jaco Kriel. It could be some time before the three-time runners-up hit top form again.
Youngsters need time
A settled and firing Lions team for the past three years meant there wasn’t too much reason for the coaching team to delve into the pool of talent at the franchise. There was a core of experienced men, and quality back-up, for Johan Ackermann and then De Bruin to have all bases covered. But, that’s not the case this year.
De Bruin has had to pick several rookies and throw them in the deep end; former junior stars like Tyron Green, Wandisile Simelane, Gianni Lombard, Vincent Tshituka, Ruan Vermaak, Rhyno Herbst, Nathan McBeth, Jan-Henning Campher, and Hacjivah Dayimani - none of whom older than 22.
Defence has been a problem
The Lions have always been a wonderful attacking team, but they’ve also conceded plenty of tries. They’ve somehow got by until now, but as the saying goes, defence wins you tournaments and cups, not attacking rugby ... and it is perhaps one of the reasons why the Lions have got to three finals but not been able to bag the trophy.
So far in 2019, they have scored 29 tries, but conceded the same number. Too many basic one-on-one tackles have been missed, gifting points to the opposition, and they’re going to have to be far better in this area if they’re to challenge again.
Selection been questionable
It is understandable De Bruin has had to pick a number of promising juniors and blood them in the big time, but he hasn’t helped his cause by chopping and changing almost every week. There have been several front row combinations and this last weekend rookies Nathan McBeth and Johannes Jonker started. There also haven’t been settled second-row or back-row combinations, while there have been five centre pairings in eight matches.
Injuries have hit hard
They lost key lock Lourens Erasmus before the competition and they also only recently welcomed back from a long-term injury, flank Cyle Brink, while Ross Cronje also started the year on the sidelines. Warren Whiteley was ruled out for seven weeks, then followed Marvin Orie for two weeks.
Flank Kwagga Smith also copped an injury is likely to only return this week. Wing Aphiwe Dyantyi has been out, key front rower Dylan Smith is unlikely to play again in Super Rugby this year.@jacq_west