Van Rooyen's Lions in freefall after another loss
JOHANNESBURG – The Lions’ four-match tour of Australasia could now turn very ugly after Ivan van Rooyen’s men crashed to a second straight defeat in two weeks, going down to the Rebels in Melbourne on Saturday.
The five-tries-to-two loss followed last week’s downing by the Waratahs, and earlier defeats in the 2020 Super Rugby competition to the Jaguares and Stormers. The Lions’ only win in five matches came in round three against the Reds, at Ellis Park.
Saturday’s loss was the first by the Lions in six outings against the Rebels and leaves them languishing in the bottom places of the SA Conference. Van Rooyen’s team next face the improving Blues before they complete their tour with a match against the Highlanders.
No matter which way one looks at it, these are tough times for the Lions who just two seasons ago played in their third straight competition final.
Under former coaches Johan Ackermann and Swys de Bruin the Lions became this country’s top Super Rugby team, but those days are now long gone. The Lions look a shadow of the side that played in the final between 2016 and 2018 and their performance in Melbourne on Saturday reminded one of the pre-Ackermann days when they really just made up the numbers in the competition.
It has been a quite dramatic fall by the Joburg side. Their biggest strengths and their foundation of recent seasons – a powerful set-piece and a dangerous attacking game – are now weaknesses as they struggle to score tries and keep opponents under pressure up-front.
In Saturday’s match against the Rebels, the Lions enjoyed a good amount of possession (52%), but they didn’t dominate in the scrums, they lost four of 14 lineouts and lacked penetration on attack and coughed up so much possession through poor handling the Rebels hardly had to work to get their hands on the ball. In all, the Lions conceded 18 turn-overs in the 80 minutes.
Error-ridden and lacking in intensity,desire and hunger, the Lions were out-played by a better organised and more clinical team on Saturday – something the Lions haven’t often been in the last few years: second best, by some distance.
And while the Lions have never been the stingiest team in defence, they are shipping tries far too easily at the moment to have a chance of out-scoring their opponents in this department. On Saturday they conceded five tries, while scoring two themselves. The week before, in Sydney, it was the same story against the Waratahs: they scored two, and gave up five.
The young Lions coaching team are now under huge pressure to turn things around – and quickly. Van Rooyen said his team would have to “reset” before being ready for the Blues game in Auckland this weekend.
“We are in a building phase (with a young team), but that is no excuse,” said Van Rooyen after Saturday’s defeat. “We’ll have to reassess quickly to be ready for the Blues game.
“We have to better with our decision-making on attack and defence and we need to apply more constant physical pressure. Our set-piece attack and defence (also need attention).’’
Van Rooyen said a change in environment, with the side now moving to New Zealand, would hopefully bring about a change in his players. “It helps that we’re moving each week. We’re going to a new country now and half of our squad have never been to New Zealand, it’ll lift the energy a little. It’s going to be an exciting challenge for us.”