The Lions have not picked up a single log point in their last 3 games and had it not been for the 2 byes already used up, would be rooted to the bottom of the log. Last year they beat the Brumbies in what many consider to have been a turning point. They will need to do the same on Friday night if they want to put themselves anywhere near being in a position of challenging the 4th spot in the SA conference.
The Brumbies under Jake White are a revelation and it angers me that other teams are able to gain so much success in such a short space of time with no real amount of stars. Like the Reds of last season, they too climbed from the bottom and within the space of a season, are competing amongst the top teams of their conference. With so many plans, promises and such focus of achieving at Super Rugby, why has it been so difficult for the Lions to even budge from the bottom 2 places?
Coach John Mitchell has openly praised the Brumbies attacking flair as well as their defensive structures. They have an excellent scrambled defense and swift backs, capable of putting 5 past the Bulls last week. The Lions always look to win games through running the ball, but do seem to be outmatched if they choose to adopt that tactic again in this instance.
It has now basically reached the point where losing is no longer an option for the Lions. They quite simply have to win and need to win a further 5 or 6 games before the end of the competition. Injuries or no injuries, they need to start winning now.
John Mitchell has often been quoted on his annoyance at “Individualism” but I am beginning to not understand exactly what he means by this. A new trend has crept into the Lions game and that is to pick and drive phase after phase and use quick recycles over and over again. The team actually looks lost if they divert from this tactic and always under pressure when they spin the ball wide.
If this is the teamwork he is looking for, then I do not see it succeeding in scoring tries. It is relatively easy to defend against and chews up great chunks of time, making very little progress along the way. Sure enough, it will allow the possession and territory stats to count in our favor, but the most important numbers i.e. the ones appearing on the scoreboard always seem to elude us.
I believe that the Lions need a MORE individualism and enterprise – that is the only way that lines are broken and opportunities created. We need someone to have a go at his opposite number and to create magic. This will never be achieved if we follow the same template phase after phase and when someone does decide to have a go, it is more often than not out of impatience and desperation and most likely the wrong option at that particular point in time.
I say, bring Andries Coetzee into the game more often, give Elton Jantjies a mandate to carry the ball more. The forwards need to split up more and spread themselves wider out in the field instead of hanging around in the flyhalf channel all the time. When the ball does go wide, they will be there to assist and maybe our outside backs will not find themselves isolated so often.
I say that it is more individuals who tip the scales in situations rather than a set game plan. Look at how Doppies la Grange dummied Stephan Terreblanche in the Currie Cup Final to break the line and set Killian up for our first try. Remember how Killian stunned the Sharks with his clean break in the 2nd half to set Taute up for his try. These were moments of magic by individuals, not set moves or templates to play within. The game plan must be the guide, but not the process. It must be a general direction, but not a specific instruction street by street; road by road. The players must have the discretion to take detours and short cuts and their teammates must be able to understand where this will be leading to and what they need to do as individuals to help.
To date the Lions have not been able to rectify their woes with the set pieces and injuries have not helped the situation. So far there has been no evidence of things improving yet and we can once again assume that we will be under pressure in the lineouts and in the restarts.
The Brumbies scored 5 tries to the Bulls 2 and still lost. This suggests that if the Lions do keep ball in hand as much as possible and play inside the Brumbies half that penalties may result. This could be a chance for Jantjies to increase his personal points tally and at least keep the visitors at bay. It therefore may have to be that the Lions will look for penalties as a means of winning as opposed to scoring tries. Not a popular tactic I’m sure, but certainly a realistic way of starting the game.
The Brumbies are a different side to the demoralized and chaotic team we smashed last year and I do not believe that the result will come our way so easily again. They are playing better rugby than us and by all accounts should beat us comfortably. Those are the facts and cannot be denied.
Sure, the Lions do have chance and should not be written off. I am however going with the pragmatic view that since there is no evidence of the Lions becoming a winning team at this point that our visitors will beat us by a margin of about 6 points.
Very sad and regrettable, but realistic.