The Lions have got a lot of things right
this year, but three stand out for me, and all have to do with their coaching
structure, these being:
Simplicity - The modern day term is “Management team” given that there are
often as many of them as there are players these days. Not so at the Lions
where Johan Ackermann calls the shots with the aid of just his two assistants,
Swys de Bruin, who runs the attack, and JP Ferreira, who runs the defence. Sure
he has other staff to call on, and is happy to call in specialist consultants,
but these are the three that run the show.
Continuity – These three guys have been together for four years, continually
working on just one thing – to make the Lions a better rugby team.
Empowerment – In an interview heard on Vodacom Rugby, Ferreira was at pains to
point out how in sync the attack and defence is given how much faith Ackermann
puts in his coaches. “We all know our roles and are given freedom to implement
our learnings,” said Ferreira, crediting a lot of the side’s success to the
culture of empowerment that Ackermann has the faith to install.
And for this CEO Rudolf Straeuli deserves a
lot of credit. Much maligned as Springbok coach for the horror show that was
the pre-World Cup training camp known as “Kamp Staaldraad”, the man is clearly
better suited to the administrative role he is now excelling at.
No Director of Rugby or High Performance
Manager to muddy the waters at Ellis Park, either. With both Straeuli and
Ackermann being straight shooters, one can only imagine the directness of the
“Chats over a beer” they have had when needing to sort out any issues! Again,
though, it keeps things nice and simple.
All his gives them an incredibly honest
base from which to work, and I think we see that in their performances between
the white lines. It’s real heart on sleeve stuff.
Their willingness to learn and adapt has
been key to the success they have achieved this year.
Given their want to entertain and play more
with ball in hand (long may that continue), the Lions have perhaps been a
little too focused on attack in the past. But a look at the match stats from their
game against the Blues reveals how they have learnt and adapted.
With territory and possession basically
split 50/50 and the Blues making more carries, the Lions came good via clean
breaks, defenders beaten and metres run. But it was doing the basics especially
well that allowed them to play like they did.
The Lions kicked 37 times to the 25 from
the Blues. They won 9 turnovers to 5 as the loose trio put on a show, they
stole 3 lineouts to the 2 of the Blues, they won 6 scrums to 1, and took a tighthead.
But it was probably their defensive effort
that shut the Blues down. The Lions only missed 8 tackles out of 115 for a 93%
success rate. This while the Blues missed 20 of their 96 tackles for a dreadful
success rate of only 79%.
Rugby is a bit like an iceberg – the fun
offloads, breaks, and tries being the top part that everyone sees, but it’s the
donkey work that happens below that you need to get right before the flashy
stuff can happen.
The Lions are starting to get that right,
with a lot down to the simple, honest and empowered structure right at the top.
Tank Lanning is a former Western Province prop and vociferous tweeter from @frontrowgrunt.Disclaimer:
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