Lions face test of character

    2016-05-02 10:25

    Brenden Nel - SuperSport

    Johannesburg - Lions coach Johan Ackermann believes his side face their biggest “test of character” as a squad since he took over as coach four years ago after they were pummelled by the Hurricanes in their Vodacom Super Rugby match at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday.

    According to, Ackermann described the 50 points the team let in at home as “disappointing” and believes that the team let down not only themselves but their supporters in the performance, prompting concerns about their ability to go all the way in this year’s competition.

    In a way it was a reality check for all the feverant Lions supporters – those who believe their side could do no wrong and their brand of rugby was the only one worth playing – and it showed that when a side that plays expansively comes up against another who matches them in terms of physicality and skills, a plan B is needed. While the game was calling out for different tactics – grubbers and chips, sending the ball into corners – their inability to change ultimately cost them as much as their poor start did.

    Ackermann will realise this and will need to temper the disappointment and turn it into rage over the next fortnight – the bye leaving room for introspection for the team when they certainly would have simply wanted to get out on the field again.

    The coach realises this and has called on his charges to look inward to what happened on their home field on Saturday.

    “It’s very disappointing – it is a game at home and the biggest letdown is that we’ve let our supporters and ourselves down with that performance. A lot of people make the effort to come and support you and then you don’t play a decent game out there. Credit to the Hurricanes. Definitely, they outplayed us in all facets and obviously showed us we are not there yet if we are thinking of competing at that level,” Ackermann said.

    “I hope so, we have to look at ourselves – did we come with the right attitude, were we right individually and obviously our own attacking game, our structures and defence. But you know, beating the Sharks in Durban and the Stormers here, that is the disappointing thing. The way we lost – it isn’t over yet and there are a lot of games left. It is fixable, but it is up to us as a group to fix it. It doesn’t start with anyone else. It is up to us. The small things didn’t go our way, it started in the beginning where we couldn’t score and it just accumulated with the intercept tries. There are a lot of things, but it is fixable.”

    The coach said it was definitely a test of character for many in the side, including himself. And while the breakdown was the early source of their own woe, there were several facets in the game that will need a deeper introspection, especially as the Lions still loom as SA’s best bet in Africa conference two.

    “It is definitely a test for me. We had good times last year in the Currie Cup and Super Rugby and this year has gone reasonably well. We are obviously disappointed in some of the games. This is a big loss and we can’t take it lightly,” he added.

    “This will be a character test for all of us, but there are still four home games and there are a lot of things to play for. And it is up to us to fix it.

    “First of all we must look at the Hurricanes and say they had it spot on. They had the physicality, they had the breakdown area covered, everything was well-planned and executed. The leaders in their team stood up and took control. We were maybe too individualistic and perhaps we thought we just need to go through the motions. It will be a test but I hope we will put this behind us and come back stronger.

    “We were very disappointed in those first minutes with the amount of turnovers. We constantly sent the message to say we need to get more players urgently to the ball and for some reason it didn’t happen. That is why I say I believe the Hurricanes will be close to the playoffs, that is how good they are, but I still believe we weren’t there mentally, if I look at the result. The players as a group maybe there were individuals that tried hard but not as a team.”

    The Lions will need to find a way back as a group – all top sides do when they get a setback of this nature. The season is definitely not over, but they have developed definite chinks in their armour of invincibility as a team.

    It’s how they recover from this that will determine their success this year.

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