JOHANNESBURG - The Lions are in danger of crashing and burning after falling to the Jaguares for the third time in a row in Buenos Aires on Saturday. The wobble that set in during the loss to the Blues a fortnight ago is now at full speed with the defending champions, the Crusaders, waiting for the Lions this weekend.
It has been a horror last three weeks for the two-time Super Rugby runners-up from 2016 and 2017, and it could get a whole lot worse before it gets better. After making a strong start to life without Johan Ackermann (and defence coach JP Ferreira) with wins against the Sharks and Jaguares at home and Bulls away, the Lions lost to the Blues at home, just edged the Sunwolves at home, and lost to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires at the weekend.
The 49-35 defeat on Saturday was the third in a row for the Lions in South America after Ackermann’s weakened sides of 2016 and 2017 also lost in Argentina.
This time though the Lions pushed their strongest available side into the field even though some regulars such as Ross Cronje, Andries Ferreira, Warren Whiteley and Jaco Kriel were missing through injury.
New head coach Swys de Bruin was desperate for his side to hit back after the iffy few last weekends, and while they scored five tries on Saturday, they conceded six to go down in spectacular fashion.
The Jaguares are a far cry from the side the competition’s organisers hoped they’d be and have struggled for consistency and this year alone have battled both home and away, registering just two wins from six - one against De Bruin’s men.
Defence is obviously a major problem for the Lions at the moment. While they have scored 34 tries in their six matches to date and played some sparkling attacking rugby - their trademark - they have struggled to keep teams out, letting in 26 tries.
And they’ve gotten worse as the competition’s gone on: they conceded three against the Sharks and Jaguares at home in rounds one and two, then they let in four by the Bulls in round three, and that was followed by five each in the games against the Blues and Sunwolves. This weekend it went up to six.
Defence coach Joey Mongalo is a hard task-master and a hugely respected man in Lions coaching circles and he’ll no doubt spend plenty of time in the coming days trying to get the Lions’ tackling work up to scratch before the Crusaders arrive later this week.
The defending champions and the team that beat the Lions in the final last year are coming off an impressive win against the Bulls and having played on Friday will have an extra day to recover from the flight to South Africa and prepare for the match - which is on Sunday afternoon. The Lions are expected back in the country only later on Monday after a challenging trip back from South America.
De Bruin will quickly have to get his charges focused on the next job at hand and he’ll also hope the likes of Cronje and Ferreira are fit to be considered for selection this week.
The Lions need a major boost right now and the Crusaders provide them an opportunity to get just that. A win would be massive for their confidence, which has no doubt taken a knock in recent weeks, and also set them on the right path for the visit of the Stormers the week after the Crusaders game.