Lions need a few good men against Rebels
While rugby is ultimately a team sport and the Lions never single out individuals, winning and losing often comes down to what a few key players do during the 80 minutes.
In last year’s World Cup final against England, every Springbok team member contributed to the overall performance, but a few played bigger roles than others.
Frans Malherbe was the rock at scrum-time, Pieter-Steph du Toit carried strongly, Faf de Klerk made good decisions, Handré Pollard kicked well, Lukhanyo Am passed when he didn’t have to and wings Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe scored stunning tries.
The new-look Lions of 2020 need the same kind of inspirational performances from a few men if they are to get their Super Rugby campaign back on track.
They have so far struggled to put a well-crafted 80 minutes together and have only one win, against the Reds, from four matches to show for their efforts.
It is true that they could and really should have beaten the Stormers at Ellis Park in round three, and also hinted at getting the better of the Waratahs in Sydney last week.
They didn’t, though, and now have heaps of pressure to deal with to ensure their Super Rugby campaign doesn’t implode on them even before it’s hit the halfway point.
After facing the Rebels today, the Lions head to New Zealand for matches against the Blues and Highlanders, which won’t be easy, and then return home having played seven games.
They won’t want to have only the one win in the bag at that stage.
Therefore, it is imperative for coach Ivan van Rooyen’s team to get up and produce a performance good enough to knock over the Rebels, and to also give them a boost in confidence ahead of their trip to New Zealand next week.
Touring is tough enough without the pressure of having to win added to it, and we all know how coaches and players feel when it comes to the third and fourth week on tour.
It’s hard on the South Africans.
So today, Van Rooyen will look mainly to his team’s spine and some of the senior players to provide the spark that will hopefully result in a win for the Joburg-based side.
Up front, hooker Pieter Jansen needs to show why the Lions have backed him as the first choice No 2.
Sure, it’s tough on him having to fill the shoes of Malcolm Marx, but he simply has to do more than he’s done up to now. Besides finding his line-out jumpers, Jansen somehow needs to get himself more involved in broken play and actually play some rugby.
Len Massyn at No 8 has started every game so far and been good, but he hasn’t been inspirational. He also needs to show why he is starting and Hacjivah Dayimani is sitting on the bench.
Scrumhalf André Warner scored a try in the team’s opening game against the Jaguares, then got injured and returned to the team last week. He needs to take charge, make good decisions and ignite the back division.
Outside him, captain Elton Jantjies must also not only play like a World Cup winner, but inspire those around him.
And then at fullback, the final link in the “spine”, Andries Coetzee, must try regain the confidence and form that made him a Springbok just three years ago.
And senior men, Dylan Smith, Marvin Orie, Marnus Schoeman and Courtnall Skosan must lead by example and show the younger men the way.
Veteran star Willem Alberts, in his first start for the Lions in eight years, must also show why the franchise decided to invest in him.
If a proper foundation is laid and the players are inspired then it will allow the likes of young centre Wandisile Simelane - in his first start of 2020 - to play with freedom and try help the Lions get across the line.
It’s a big day for the Lions and an even bigger one for the individuals. It’s in matches like these, when backs are against the wall, that character either shines through or doesn’t come through at all. Which will it be in Melbourne?