Gary Boshoff

Lions oozing confidence

2009-06-08 09:08
Sport24 columnist Gary Boshoff (File)
Gary Boshoff

What an intriguing tour this is turning out to be – despite the perception that the British and Irish Lions don't have what it takes to beat the Springboks (according to Jake White and a number of rugby journalists the Boks are “pound for pound” better than the Lions), they are still unbeaten and building up confidence and cohesiveness towards the first Test on June 20. 

Even with the close shave they had against the Cheetahs, the result of a dismal second half, they still managed to hold out for a win. Like the first tour match against the Royal XV, Saturday’s win says a lot about the character and leadership of this touring side.

The Springboks will be hoping that either the Sharks or Western Province stop this confidence boosting build-up towards the Tests as Peter de Villiers certainly won’t want to step into the ring against an unbeaten Lions side, oozing confidence. 

Despite the misapprehensions about the quality of this Lions outfit in the press, there is something about this team that tells me that they are much better prepared than what we've been made to believe. The calmness with which they deal with on-field challenges, their measured and disciplined approach to the physical confrontations and their almost complete acceptance of refereeing decisions are signs of a team ready to click on the biggest stage.

The 1974 Lions completely outplayed the Springboks while the 1997 Lions outkicked them - with a whole bunch of quality goal kickers, a huge, mobile pack of forwards and a very potent back row. The Lions of 2009 definitely have an equal chance of emulating their 1974 and 1997 counterparts.

Sudden implosion

On a completely different note though, on Wednesday evening their namesakes, the Golden Lions, imploded in dramatic fashion in what was meant to be one of the highlights in the playing careers of a provincial player – playing against a British and Irish Lions touring side. The sudden implosion of the Golden Lions is hard to fathom in this professional era of rugby.

Where was the foresight of the franchise’s professional management team that they could not have foreseen this? How could a responsible, professional management team, that holds the interests of the franchise foremost, jeopardise the franchise’s reputation by firing their coach before such an important international fixture? How could they appoint an amateur coach from the youth (school) structures of the Lions to coach a group of professional senior players on the eve of the match? Why did they not appoint assistant coach Timmy Goodwin (who has worked with these players for the past five years) to take over in the interim? Why have they brought in an outside agency (Jake White) to tell them what to do?

Is it because they don’t have a clue of what to do? Might it be that they have not evolved with the professional game and still operate with an 'old amateur' mindset and had to “outsource” the firing of their coach because they did not have the guts to do it themselves? Does the franchise not have any expertise of their own when it comes to professional sports and player management? If not, then Eugene Eloff was merely a symptom of a much deeper problem and the president and his men should take responsibility for the rest.

The way this situation played itself out is indicative of the challenges faced by many rugby federations, namely, the inability to adapt the management structures to the professional game and the challenges it presents to the modern rugby player and coach. While Jake White epitomises professional rugby coaching in the minds of many, the appointment of Hans Coetzee out of nowhere, smacks of favouritism (an amateur remedy for a professional problem). To my mind this appointment has contributed as much to the present turmoil in the union as did the dismissal of Eloff.

Eloff’s summary dismissal was uncalled for and could have been managed much better by the powers at be. He was a loyal and passionate Lions coach (and servant) and certainly deserved a much better send-off than what he got.

Gary Boshoff is a former Saru player and well-known rugby administrator.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.


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