JOHANNESBURG – As the Lions enjoy their first bye this week, they do so in the knowledge that they lead the Super Rugby SA Conference, having won four of six matches.
However, it hasn’t been all plain sailing for coach Swys de Bruin and company, as Independent Mediar points out five things we’ve learnt so far about the 2019 team:
Injuries hit hard
They started the season with not too many injured players on the sidelines, but in the last six weeks of action they’ve had to dig deep to put out a competitive and balanced team.
Cyle Brink not being fit up to now hit the loose forward department hard, and along the way the Lions have also lost Warren Whiteley, Kwagga Smith and Vincent Tshituka.
Hotshot prop Dylan Smith is also out again, as is scrumhalf Dillon Smit, while Marvin Orie also spent time on the sidelines, as well as Andries Coetzee, Aphiwe Dyantyi and scrumhalf Ross Cronje. The Lions have looked like a patchwork side at times.
Mostert was the machine
A number of players have left the Lions in the last two years, among them Ruan Ackermann, Jaco Kriel, Faf de Klerk, Ruan Dreyer, Jacques van Rooyen and Rohan Janse van Rensburg, but they are missing Franco Mostert the most in 2019.
The lanky lock was a workhorse like no other and if he wasn’t making tackles he was carrying the ball in contact. He was also a banker in the line-outs and one of the most influential figures in the pack. The added bonus is that Mostert was just as comfortable at blindside flank as he was at lock; he is being missed.
There’s wonderful depth
But what the departure of several high-profile players has done in the Lions' set-up is open the door for the younger stars to come through and grab their chance and how they’ve performed!
Coach De Bruin and company must also be lauded for backing the “kids”, who’ve paid them back with some quality outings so far. Here one thinks of backs Tyrone Green, Wandisile Simelane and Franco Naude, and forwards Tshituka, Hacjivah Dayimani, James Venter, Ruan Vermaak, Rhyno Herbst, Pieter Jansen and possibly the best of the bunch, loan prop from the Cape, Carlu Sadie, who has shone at No 3.
They’ve got some fight
The Lions suffered two defeats early on against the Stormers in Cape Town and the Bulls at Ellis Park, and looked to be on a downward spiral ahead of the visit by the tricky Jaguares on March 9.
But the Lions produced a quality performance and blew their opponents off the park before suffering a late implosion, although they’d done enough to get back on track.
And the week after that, they appeared to be down and out against the Rebels before a stunning second half which saw them score 31 unanswered points, ensuring a thrilling 36-33 win.
Signs times are changing
In the last three years the Lions have been South Africa’s strongest Super Rugby side by some margin, but not anymore.
This year there appears to be a soft touch to the squad; they should have held on against the Stormers in round two, but lost 19-17 in the dying minutes, and then also suffered a shock 30-12 loss to the Bulls at Ellis Park the following week.
While they beat the Jaguares home and away, and the Rebels and Sunwolves, there have been cracks in their performances. The futures of De Bruin and some players are also undecided after this year’s competition.@jacq_west