The missing link in the Lions' game
SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: The Lions team of 2020 is a pale shadow to the sides that reached three consecutive finals in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
The apologists will constantly point to the large number of senior players missing from the roster – through departures abroad, retirement or injury.
And that has had an impact.
However, the real issue may well be found in something far more significant and tangible.
The mien of the current crop of players can be found in the decline of their attack and defence.
The degeneration of the Lions’ defence may point to the real reason why the Lions have one win from five starts – as they hover outside the top 10.
To appropriate a phrase from South Africa’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus: ‘Defence is attitude’.
You can see how badly a team or player wants it in the way they defend.
Just look at how ‘bantams’ like Francois de Klerk, Herschelle Jantjies and Cheslin Kolbe defend and you will understand what it means.
This year the Lions scored just 13 tries in their five matches and conceded 21. They are scoring less than three tries per match and concede a touch over four tries per match.
The only match in which they did not concede four or more tries were against the Reds – their only win of the season, 27-20.
In 2018 the Lions scored 77 tries in 16 league matches (an average of five tries per match) and conceded 55 (3.4 per match).
In 2017 that was 81 tries scored (5.5 average) and 27 conceded (1.8 average), while in 2916 it was 71 scored (4.7 average) and 42 conceded (2.8 average).
As I found out the hard way (entitled) pic.twitter.com/A0bRyj0W6P
— Rassie Erasmus (@RassieRugby) February 10, 2020
Lions defence coach Sean Erasmus admitted defence is an issue, but felt they have been making progress.
“We are way over the goals we have set for ourselves,” Erasmus said, at the team’s training base in Auckland – ahead of their Round Seven encounter with the Blues.
“We have been working hard on certain issues within the [defensive] system, to ensure we are better,” he added.
Erasmus said the Lions’ defensive system is based on “getting in line and getting off the line” quickly.
However, not all the players seem to be on board – or ‘in line’.
“In the last couple of weeks we have been improving within that system,” he said.
“Our spacing is something we need to address to get a bit more width.
“With the modern defence, where teams look to put pressure on attack, a lot of teams will look to go wide.
“That is one area where we can be better at the moment.”
He admitted that one-on-one missed tackles it still an issue, with some players lacking confidence.
“It is something we are working on hard at the moment,” Erasmus said, adding: “I am quite happy with the progress of certain individuals.”
* Meanwhile Springbok Ross Cronje will lead a Golden Lions XV when they face a Sharks XV in a domestic Challenge match pre-season friendly in Durban on Friday.
Gianni Lombard will get a 20-minute run in his first steps back to rugby action.
Stean Pienaar also returns from injury.
However, Springbok Jaco Kriel will sit this match out as continues his rehabilitation from the ankle surgery he underwent before returning from Gloucester to the Lions earlier this year.
Probably at the alignment camps where the “bomb squad” principle was born pic.twitter.com/irQeyaRhSB
— Rassie Erasmus (@RassieRugby) February 20, 2020