Worrying early signs for Lions

2012-01-28 12:19

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Perhaps the best comfort Lions enthusiasts may take from their pre-season gallop against the Stormers at Newlands is to fervently hope the Highvelders are simply more off the pace than they would like before the campaign-proper begins.

John Mitchell’s charges, the Currie Cup champions but hardly taking that sort of supposed gravitas onto the pitch with them on Friday night, suffered a heavier friendly defeat than most good judges would have anticipated at the hands of the 2011 Super Rugby SA conference winners.

The 28-6 score-line and three-tries-to-none margin was a pretty accurate summary of things, even if the visitors had some healthy enough spells of territorial ascendancy and also butchered a few promising opportunities out wide when they boasted superior numbers.

They also had an edge in the scrums against the start-out Stormers pack -- although that changed a bit when the hosts swapped an entire front row to introduce beefy customers like Tiaan Liebenberg and Frans Malherbe during the second half -- and captain Josh Strauss at least warmed increasingly to his ball-carrying task as the night developed.

Otherwise, though, it was rather painful one-way traffic in the wrong direction if you were a Lions fan among the crowd that sneaked into five figures just ahead of kick-off.

Some areas of the visitors’ game came horribly unstuck – notably their lineout where poaches were the order of the day; De Kock Steenkamp is becoming an increasingly influential factor here for the Cape franchise, making him comforting cover for Andries Bekker in the gruelling programme ahead.

Mind you, Lions hooker Bandise Maku may have been caught a little by surprise by the pesky mid-summer southeaster that blew for the entire 80 minutes; rugby conditions in Johannesburg tend to be rather more benign than that.

Strauss’s team were also found wanting for general discipline and defensive organisation, especially as the Stormers of 2012 seem intent, if Friday was any barometer, on being a little more adventurous with ball in hand from deepish in their own territory.

Veteran flyhalf Butch James did his level best to remind his colleagues of the importance of grim commitment in the tackle, pulling off a couple of near-monster hits, but he also continues to flirt with illegality in terms of his slightly infamous higher lunges.

Of course these are very early days and if you throw in the argument about peaking at right times, the Lions may well look altogether more cohesive by the time they run out at Coca-Cola Park on February 25 for their Super Rugby opener, a derby against the Cheetahs.

Watching the Lions in this exercise, it was difficult nevertheless to sidestep a suspicion that their sterling Currie Cup efforts last year won’t necessarily translate into greatly improved fortunes in the broader southern hemisphere competition.

Admirably though they fared in the domestic showpiece, it was characterised in 2011 – and sadly will probably only continue to do so – by broad absenteeism of leading Springboks, giving it a slightly “second tier” feel.

So their still largely Honest Joe personnel aren’t necessarily going to suddenly hot-foot their way to dizzy heights in Super Rugby 2012.

It remains difficult to contemplate marked improvement on their second-last overall status last season, when only Australian rookies the Melbourne Rebels – since beefed up by a genuinely stellar Wallaby name or two – fared less productively.

Tellingly, perhaps, the side the Lions fielded at Newlands was actually a lot closer to a full-strength combination than the Stormers put out, because apart from the first-choice outside back division they boasted, the Cape side will probably alter for the better increasingly in other areas as the Super Rugby season takes root.

Throw in the depressing publicity of late about their financial plight – or perhaps “alleged” plight, to make some allowance for Kevin de Klerk’s defiant counter-arguments – plus confirmation by SARU earlier on Friday that the Southern Kings will, indeed, play Super Rugby come what may next year, and things don’t look hugely cheery in the camp of last year’s conference wooden-spoonists.

They might need to call on an awful lot of their known squad “gees” and the coaching acumen of Mitchell and others in the next few weeks and months to make up for some swelling clouds in other areas ...

 *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing


  • ivan.coetzee2 - 2012-01-28 12:47

    woohoo stormers

      Ruan - 2012-01-30 12:29

      Maybe the Lions should join the kings next year, they can then be called the "Lion Kings".

  • aubrey.gloster - 2012-01-28 13:15

    Shame your'e still not over the Cape sides cupless 2011 and the trophyless last 30 tournaments in which they participated the last 10 years.It was a warm-up match and the Lions definitely missed Rhodes, Van Heerden, Hollenbach, Jantes etc. Of course the struggling Capies would take the match serious after all the flack of last season and the past few weeks, what with their top coach jumping ship, Fourie emigrating to Japan, Grant not really wanting to return to the Cape etc. Unfortunately it is going to get way worse before it gets better. You will end stone last in the SA Conference. Greetings

      aubrey.gloster - 2012-01-28 16:02

      JacoVintage, Chris en hoffjw.Julle is almal pragtige mense. Ek hoop nie die Stormers ruineer julle sprankelende persoonlikhede nie. O ja JacoVintage ek is die baba op die foto. Ek is nou 2 en my Pa sê dit is nie goed vir my om met Stronters ag ek bedoel Stormers te praat nie want dit maak mens stadig.

      Johan - 2012-01-30 07:43

      So Aubrey - Die een bekerkie wat julle nou in 50 jaar gewen het in die Curriebeker maak darem dat julle nou so bietjie uit die rugby duisternis kom om te wys hoe min julle eintlik van rugby weet...Dit is eintlik jammer dat die ou Leeutjies so op Senior vlak sukkel want dit maak dit soveel moeiliker vir die Stormers, Bulle en Sharks om bo te kom met al die games wat die Leeutjies teen ander spanne verloor....Geniet maar die Curriecup glorie vir die rukkie wat dit nog iets beteken!

  • hoffjw - 2012-01-28 14:41

    Curriecup champs my gat......Lions supporters was grootbek voor die game nou is dit n warmup.......LIons by plenty someone said....Jy is n idioot vandag

      aubrey.gloster - 2012-01-28 15:54

      Ons kyk weer in April. Jy is 'n pragtige mens vandag

      Johan - 2012-01-30 12:08

      @ Hoffjw - Maar julle is aggresief so vroeg in die jaar met julle kommentaar..... Ek stem saam met Aubrey, jy is n pragtige mens.

  • Steenbra - 2012-01-28 15:15

    I think Houwing is just talking a whole lot of crap.. James was poor and stuttering, made one high tackle on Kolisi.. And the run on pack didnt struggle as he said. When the fornt row changed in the 2nd half problems started creeping in. Bondesio and Mapoe had solid games and Kamana looked full of running when he came on. One must remember the lions really never had any warm up games( i think) No need to worry as Houwing is inferring. The loosies were kept in check as well. Pehaps the only fair comment made is that the Lions struggled in the lineout where Etsebeth poached a couple of balls.

  • Ken - 2012-01-28 23:00

    The only worrying signs for the Lions at this stage are the biased journalist from news24 and the odd idiotic comments from people like Isak!

      Johan - 2012-01-29 11:35

      I agree 100% with you there, this is one of the worst articles I have ever read! It early stages....I think the Lions are going to do a lot better than last year....but Rob went out and dissing them big time! We will have to wait and see then! Even though we didn't had any Springboks...we proof to win the Currie Cup...tournaments is momentum.....The Lions win the sharks with a big margin....and how many boks did the sharks least rugby season is starting again and can't wait for the super rugby to my opinion the best rugby tournament!

  • aubrey.gloster - 2012-01-30 08:28

    Johan wie ondersteun jy? Kommaan moennie sweeping statements maak nie. Staan agter jou span en sê jou sê. Jy klink vir my soos 'n hangkas Stormer. Natuurlik voor al jou pêlle is jy 'n Bull maar in die aand huil jy jouself aan die slaap. Gie gie gie gie

      Shistirrer - 2012-01-30 10:17

      As ek 'n Bulls supporter was het ek myself ook in die aand aan die slaap gehuil.

  • Marius - 2012-01-30 08:47

    Rob Houwing, by the end of the Super Rugby season, when your Super Stormers has again become Super Loosers, you will officially be named Rob Howling!

  • charmaine.vanaardt - 2012-01-30 09:48

    And I quote from the story above "Of course these are very early days...."

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