“How come the Lions can’t take their amazing Currie Cup form through to Super Rugby?” is a question I have been asked more and more frequently as the season has progressed.
And “amazing” is certainly an apt description of the type of rugby the men from Joburg are playing. A brand of rugby that may well see them drinking out of one of the more famous pieces of silverware in world rugby on Saturday evening!
But the answer is a fairly simple one.
The Lions are a competent Super Rugby side playing in the Currie Cup. Having not lost a single player to the national cause, they have been able to select from the same pool of players used in Super Rugby and build on that momentum.
And while coming 12th in Super Rugby might not sound that flattering, they won 7 out of 16 games, only 2 less than they lost, which is the same as the Stormers, Blues and Bulls (who came ninth. Competent indeed.
And much like Super Rugby is a level down on Test rugby, so is the Currie Cup a level down on Super Rugby, giving teams just that little more space to work in, while taking on defences lacking in the Fort Knox-like forts set up by the top Super Rugby sides.
But good on them for making it work. They have certainly heeded the wakeup call of being booted out of Super Rugby for a year, and under Johan Ackermann, you can see a side playing not only for the jersey, but for their team-mates, and for their coach. A band of brothers playing for a common cause. Not a simple thing to get right in today’s professional space that sees players jumping provinces for an extra packet of Jelly Tots.
There is obviously a smidgen more technical going on than just playing for a cause, though. Their scrum is a thing of true beauty, right up there with the Argentinean Bajada. They have led the way not only in the Currie Cup, but also in Super Rugby, introducing the no hook, perfectly timed 8-man “mini-shove” on one’s own ball that gets you not only your ball, but also the shoulder you require. A technique that can upgraded to a “maxi-shove” and used to cause mass destruction on the opposition’s ball. Something the Sharks found out painfully at Ellis Park last weekend. It’s about power and technique for sure, but also about making it part of the team’s culture, and perhaps most importantly, timing. Tears of joy to my baby blues!
Throw in a top class loose trio - to my mind boasting the player of the tournament in Jaco Kriel (which says a vast amount given the form of Nizaam Carr) - a flyhalf who can control a game (but knows when to pass), centres who can distribute and take a gap, and pacey assets out wide that can finish, and you have a well-balanced side who will push top of the log Western Province all the way on Saturday.
A little birdie tells me that their current lack of contribution to the national cause is about to change. And rightfully so. I would have both tightheads, Ruan Dreyer and Julian Redelinghuys (together with tales of what they do in training), and Jaco Kriel in that Bok end of season tour squad!
But first they have a tough duel against a home side who have also revolutionised the way they play (at last some might say) under Gert Smal. The likes of Juan de Jongh, Cheslin Kolbe and Seabelo Senatla have thrived with more ball and a licence to thrill. How the former remains outside of Heyneke Meyer’s plans is beyond me.
As with every flamboyant backline tale, though, they all start with getting good ball. In WP’s case, the heroes this season have been the loose trio, especially the combination of Siya Kolisi and Carr. Now having lost Kolisi to injury and the Bok cause, coach Alistair Coetzee has chosen to replace him with the abrasive Rynhardt Elstadt, delivering a “tall timber” type loose trio that did not work for the Bulls in Super Rugby. Carr must be freed up to play his natural game, and to do that I would have been tempted to play out and out fetcher, and hugely under rated Rohan Kitshoff!
It’s not going to happen though, which means WP have to find a way to counter that Lions juggernaut scrum. Lock your kids up people, this comes with a PG rating!
Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt.
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