CAPE TOWN – Was the Lions’ “tactical move” a clever tactic or an unsportsmanlike scheme?
The struggling Lions secured a 23-17 Super Rugby victory over the Chiefs at the weekend after leading 20-0 at half-time.
The Lions had initially named Elton Jantjies and Malcolm Marx on the bench ahead of the clash, knowing full well the Springbok duo would start.
Earlier this week, Lions boss Rudolf Straeuli admitted to deliberately misleading the New Zealand side ahead of the Hamilton clash.
To make matters worse (for the Chiefs), Jantjies and Marx were key in the Round 10 fixture, while Colin Cooper’s side were without Damian McKenzie (who is injured), Brodie Retallick and Nathan Harris.
Jantjies starred at inside centre and gave new life to the Handre Pollard at 10/Jantjies at 12 debate as the World Cup draws closer.
The No 10 regular secured points for his team through every kind of kick as he slotted two penalties, two conversions and a drop goal.
Marx flourished in a Lions pack that dominated their counterparts. And the contributions of the pair would surely have given the Chiefs reason to be sour.
“It was a tactical move to announce the team like that because we wanted the Chiefs to believe they were not going to play,” Straeuli said.
“With Malcolm on the bench, the Chiefs opted to rest some of their heavy forwards. With him in the starting team we could take them on at scrum time and it worked well. The foundation for our victory was laid up front.”
As World Rugby and Sanzaar regulations are clear that teams must be announced at least 48 hours before kick-off, the Lions’ tactic could be seen as bad sportsmanship.
But does it in any way differ from players or teams testing the laws or finding loopholes in World Rugby’s elaborate scroll of a lawbook during a game?
Besides, it isn’t illegal anyway and it’s nothing new. So what’s the issue, right?
Given all the issues that arose around the Lions’ den last week, one has to question whether the let’s-confuse-them approach was even for real (and that the team wasn’t different for other reasons).
But let’s assume that it was.
You could see it as a win-at-all-costs move.
A chance the Lions took to have the best chance of bagging a win.
Depending on how high your horse is when it comes to what flies and what shouldn’t in rugby, the argument could go either way.
But while it gave the Lions the opportunity pull out a surprise card or two, it robbed the Chiefs of the opportunity to prepare properly. And that’s not fair.
It cannot be said with any degree of certainty that their win can be attributed to the Jantjies-Marx move. But you’d have had to be blind not to see the role they played.
Sure, if this was a good few decades ago it perhaps would have been different. But sport has become a business, and the importance of winning will continue to grow.
So, this is something that needs to be looked at. Should coaches perhaps be allowed to name their teams on the day of the fixture?
It’s not like the teams on the receiving end of such confusion ever complain officially.
But clearly defining the laws around it will eliminate any room for teams to gain an unfair advantage by going against the current norm.