Dapper Lions now test Gold, Fleck
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The Lions are gathering Super
Rugby friends at a rate of knots, if not quite yet able to boast winning
important matches against quality foes consistently.
That they are on an upward curve for a
progressive, crowd-pleasing brand of rugby, albeit still laced with damaging
fits of naivety, is undeniable … and yes, that is even despite Friday’s home
setback in an 80-point thrill-ride against the legendary Crusaders.
The record seven-time champions, seemingly
nudging their way back after a lean period toward exemplary past standards
themselves, won 43-37 at Emirates Airline Park but this was one of those
agreeable occasions where even a good number of diehard Lions supporters would
have been able to go home with smiles eclipsing frowns, given the hardly
unimportant value for money they received for their night out.
Johan Ackermann’s never-surrender charges
contributed royally to a champagne game of rugby which combined bruising,
always compelling forward exchanges with the truest, traditional spirit of
rugby union in backline constructiveness and hand-to-hand cut and thrust.
It was a great advertisement for rugby in
the southern hemisphere, demonstrating anew why the balance of global power at
both international and arguably also franchise/club level so frequently stays
on this particular side of the equator.
Much higher-touted South African teams than
the current, reasonably youthful Lions have come an altogether more serious,
depressing cropper to the Crusaders, either home or away - it is certainly my fervent
hope that Ackermann and his closest lieutenants won’t allow the result to
somehow coax them back toward a more cautious, overly collision-based style of
play still favoured by certain other domestic outfits.
Under his tutelage, the Lions continue to
look the closest thing in style and courageous application of game-plan to
matching the multi-decorated, easily planet-leading New Zealand approach to
That the ‘Saders deserved their victory
could hardly be disputed, and the home team’s typically gracious and astute
captain Warren Whiteley acknowledged as much in the immediate post-match TV
The rangy No 8, who had a difficult but
still valiant match in direct opposition to the best exponent of the berth
there is, Kieran Read, also deftly pinpointed the Lions’ primarily failings in
this outing: being generally outfoxed in the turnovers department, sometimes
losing their defensive concentration and resolve with very costly consequences,
and occasionally playing a tad too much fancy stuff from too dangerously deep
in their own real estate.
But when you are trying so determinedly to reinvent
yourselves – something that may well prove eventually in broader national interest
– you have to expect certain teething pains, and try hat-trick hero and
man-of-the-match Ryan Crotty, the Crusaders centre, almost certainly wasn’t
simply muttering polite platitudes when he lauded the Lions for playing “some
of the best footie” competition-wide this year.
With some vital tweaking and perfecting,
the Lions’ method still contains so many inviting possibilities for marked
success, and it will be fascinating now to see whether they stick
wholeheartedly to their guns in immediate, challenging follow-up respective
derbies against the Sharks (Durban next Saturday) and then Stormers
Both of those often SA pace-setting sides
are on byes in the present round.
The stakes will be particularly high when Whiteley
and company encounter the Sharks in a top-of-table Africa Conference 2 affair -
the difference is a mere two points on the log after five matches each - so
there is no guarantee at all of an end-to-end, free-spirited classic.
Yet the jury remains out over whether
either of the Sharks’ and Stormers’ respective masterminds, Gary Gold and
Robbie Fleck, are genuinely dragging their own charges - whether kicking and
screaming or not - into a brave new world tactically-speaking.
There is likely to be no shortage of
neutrals rather urging that the Lions, whatever the outcomes of either derby,
continue to manufacture elegant tries along the way, and thus effectively lay
down the gauntlet to both rival coaches: “Right, now show what YOU have in the
attack department ...”
our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing