Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The
Lions may have earned a nail-biting home victory over the Waratahs on Saturday,
but the match only really appeared to serve up further evidence that a fourth
consecutive appearance in the Super Rugby final will be beyond them this year.
they have also taken enormous pride for several years in proving doubters
wrong, Warren Whiteley’s 2019 outfit continue to look some way short of the altogether
more zesty, polished Lions side of the 2016 and 2017 years, in particular.
their paintwork were already appearing last year, when they lost as many as
seven matches in ordinary season, and this 29-28 close shave against the ‘Tahs - SuperSport pundit and former Springbok hooker Hanyani Shimange was justified
in branding it a “typical mid-table contest” - did little to suggest that any
aspirations beyond merely making the playoffs cut are attainable.
As it is,
they are curtailed to fourth in the SA conference and a very borderline eighth
overall after this result, where they never looked like threatening to add a
bonus point and would have been relieved just to get over the line in a loose,
error-laden four-tries-all tussle.
you consider that one of the Lions’ tries came from what studio guru Nick
Mallett highlighted was a “dramatic forward pass” early in the move - between
Stephan Lewies and Malcolm Marx - the visiting Aussies had reason to feel
aggrieved with referee Egon Seconds and his various back-up personnel.
On the mitigatory
side, the Johannesburg-based team were coming off a post-tour bye, and player
of the match Marx (a game-topping 18 carries, plus 75 metres made and hallmark
nuisance value on the deck) admitted afterwards that they showed rustiness
no less a realist in his own appraisal of the showing: “Our set-piece was
inconsistent, we lost control of the ball too much … we need to be better.
(But) I am proud of the team for grinding it out; the Waratahs wouldn’t let us
for improvement will need to kick in strongly when the Highlanders - a little
ominously in the current climate - become the next outfit from New Zealand to
visit South Africa, with a tour starter at Ellis Park next Saturday
unbeaten in four matches, and will take to the high-altitude clash emboldened
by how consummately compatriots the Crusaders dealt with that supposed lung-challenging
“drawback” up the highway at Loftus on Friday night.
At least by
pipping the Waratahs, the Lions indisputably remained part of the extraordinary
battle for conference supremacy this year: it only seems to get tighter even as
the group is marked by collective, abject frailty when it comes to results
starkly apparent when you notice that the now conference-leading Sharks
(courtesy of their losing bonus point against the Chiefs on Saturday, perhaps
the least they deserved) somehow hold bragging rights despite a negative
win-loss ratio after a dozen matches.
five victories, a draw and six reverses.
returning from a decent enough Australasian tour with a win, loss and
stalemate, the Sharks have a handy bye before a four-game final push - although
one of those assignments will be another long-haul trek to Buenos Aires.
likely to see their lead short-lived, as a result: any one or more of the
Bulls, Jaguares or Lions will overtake them with a win next weekend and the
Stormers, currently bottom, would draw level on points in the unlikely event
that they knock over the mighty ‘Saders at Newlands with a bonus point into the
bonded on this tour; it was awesome,” Sharks captain Louis Schreuder said after
the gutsy enough 29-23 defeat in Hamilton.
of those words will be put to the test when his men resume their campaign
against the Lions at Kings Park in a fortnight, considering that highly
damaging stint at home, ahead of the trek, when they looked so lacklustre in
surprise successive defeats to the Jaguares and Reds.
Next weekend’s fixtures (home teams
first, all kick-offs SA time):
Friday, May 17
v Jaguares - 09:35
Rebels v Bulls - 11:45
Saturday, May 18
Blues v Chiefs - 09:35
v Waratahs - 11:45
Lions v Highlanders - 15:05
Stormers v Crusaders - 17:15
Byes: Sharks, Brumbies, Sunwolves
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