Going on the dismal form shown by the Lions over the last few years, many have written them off as any form of threat in this year’s Super 15. Well, to be honest, based on last year’s shameful Super 14 form, I would too. Frankly, I thought they should have been booted out of the tournament in place of a more deserving team.
That view, however, is based on the Lions’ Super 14 form. Their recent Currie Cup form, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely. The Lions showed well during the Currie Cup of 2010, and really were capable of beating anyone on their day. In fact, their form improved so much that they were unlucky to miss out on the semi-finals of the world’s greatest domestic competition.
But, as the saying goes, one should make their own luck, and the Lions did themselves no favours by dropping a few games, admittedly difficult ones, and ultimately left themselves with only a slim and nearly impossible mathematical chance of progressing into the last four.
Now, I’m sure many people reading this have heard this same tired old song numerous times before (the Cheetahs being a prime example), but I do think the revised structure of Super Rugby will work in the Lions favour. I’m not suggesting that they are akin to the Cheetahs, who traditionally play like men possessed when faced with domestic opposition, but I do think that they could benefit significantly from the rather less arduous travelling schedule offered by the new format, as the Lions travel poorly.
The other thing that should count in their favour is that, unlike a few other teams in SA, they, perhaps, aren’t as dogged in playing one particular style, which could give them a slightly unpredictable dimension when up against the foreign teams in particular.
Am I suggesting this will be the beginning of a Lions resurgence? Well, let’s just say that I’m hedging my bets, because I’ve been down this road before.
Remember the Lions’ stellar, by their standards, 2007 Super 14 season? We all had such high hopes after that… The loss of players such as fullback Louis Ludik and loose forward Willem Alberts to the Sharks will hurt the side, particularly now that Alberts is a Springbok of great promise.
However, the players that the team has in its ranks will likely offset these losses. Bandise Maku, the former third choice hooker from the Bulls, has come to Joburg most likely seeking more game time in a quest for the green and gold.
Wikus van Heerden has also returned from Saracens in England.. Waylon Murray has also been lured from the Sharks in what is also presumably a quest for more game time, and he will benefit from already having played the full 2010 Currie Cup season with the team.
The player on the Lions’ roster that will be the most keenly observed will undoubtedly be the 20-year old Elton Jantjies, Carlos Spencer’s prime trainee and the number 10 who played a major part in the Lions’ run of form in the Currie Cup. So impressive was his form that he toured Britain and Ireland with the Boks last year, and played against the BaaBaas.
Expect a much better performance from the Lions this year. The men from Joburg still have a long way to go but they seem to be on the right track. A young squad needs time and when they do click, the sleeping giants of South African rugby will be right up there.