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    Lame Lions digging own grave?

    2012-04-10 14:05
    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – Losing has become an unpleasantly lingering virus for the Lions ... and whether they even possess the required “muti” to recuperate must be considered in some doubt.

    Their fifth defeat on the trot, to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday, not only left them very much down among the dead men of Super Rugby 2012 thus far, but was alarming because of the margin of defeat.

    Previously, the Johannesburg franchise had been earning the respect of neutrals for the spirit and tenacity they showed even as they surrendered games – with a bit more luck, after all, they might have actually beaten both the Hurricanes and even the high-flying Stormers at Coca-Cola Park.

    Keep in mind also that when they went down 23-13 to the Crusaders at the venue less than a fortnight ago, Butch James badly hooked a last-ditch penalty that would have earned them the consolation of a pretty deserved losing bonus point for ending within seven points of the seven-time champions.

    Until last Saturday, then, the Lions had at least clung to a reputation as a “nearly” team – in line with a broader trend in this year’s competition for many results to be desperately close.

    So people who are pessimistic about their chances of escaping the nether regions of both the conference and overall tables would only have increased their levels of fear after the 21-point defeat to the Cheetahs, initially touted as probable participants in a two-horse race with them to stave off relegation as the spectre of the Southern Kings’ planned involvement from 2013 looms ever larger.

    Suddenly at Free State Stadium the Lions looked rather more genuinely like a spooked, low-on-star-factor outfit, never mind that they barely deserved to be trailing by a gaping 23-0 at the break and nominally “won” the second half 5-3 as the Cheetahs went into a cruise control mode.

    There is probably a case for saying that, rather than the Lions actually looking compelling in that second period, the host team simply started showing the effects of fatigue from their unusually successful overseas leg. 

    The long-term injury list in the Big Smoke is a near-pitiful one, and rank inexperience in their front row, for instance, was exposed as in-form Cheetahs behemoths Coenie Oosthuizen, Adriaan Strauss and WP Nel put the squeeze on at scrum time.

    Clearly the Lions need to break their losing habit fast: they simply must clinch at least one of successive home fixtures against the Bulls (this Saturday) and then the Brumbies (after the tonic of a final bye weekend) if there is to be any chance of their parlous position altering.

    That encounter against Jake White’s charges is the start of a nine-game unbroken roster for Josh Strauss and company until the end of the ordinary season, although the Lions will obviously benefit more than most from the time off during the June Test window: Springbok candidates are unlikely to come dime-a-dozen from the franchise as things stand.

    After the Brumbies date the Lions head abroad for their four-game tour: it was there that they rather rejuvenated their campaign last season, winning two of the games, although cynics may be inclined to mutter than perhaps lightning won’t strike again this time.

    The Bulls will be heavy favourites this weekend, although if the Lions can capture some of their 2011 “Currie Cup spirit” in the cross-Hennops derby they may have a slim chance of upsetting the form book.

    Defeat will only be another ominous turn ... the Lions then face the prospect of tackling both the men from the Pretoria and the Stormers, significantly the two best SA flag-carriers thus far, on enemy turf in two of the last three weeks of the campaign.

    Like it or not, if the Lions’ campaign does disintegrate into glaring embarrassment – it is not too far off doing so -- they will only politically ease the controversial matter of the Kings’ addition to the Super Rugby party ...

    These are the remaining 10 Lions fixtures:

    Bulls (H), bye, Brumbies (H), Chiefs (A), Blues (A), Reds (A), Force (A), Sharks (H), Stormers (A), Rebels (H), Bulls (A).

    -

    Read More On:  lions super 15 johannesburg rugby

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    Fixtures

    13 February 2015
    • Crusaders v Melbourne Rebels, Christchurch 08:35
    • Brumbies v Reds, Canberra 10:40
    • Lions v Hurricanes, Johannesburg 19:10
    14 February 2015
    • Blues v Chiefs, Albany 08:35
    • Sharks v Cheetahs, Durban 17:05
    • Bulls v Stormers, Pretoria 19:10
    15 February 2015
    • Waratahs v Western Force, Sydney 07:05

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