JOHANNESBURG – The Lions kick off their three-match Super Rugby Tour of Australasia with a match against the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday. It comes on the back of the Lions losing 42-5 to the Sharks and earlier in the season also going down to the Stormers and Bulls.
Here, we highlight four areas where the Lions must improve, if they’re to start their tour on a sound note.
Fire from the off
A major concern has been how slowly the Lions have started their matches.
In their first two outings they struggled to assert themselves against the Jaguares and Stormers and then in round three against the Bulls they trailed 14-0 at the break, having been comprehensively outplayed in the opening 40.
While the next week against the Jaguares they dominated from start to finish, they were again found wanting against the Rebels in round five. They trailed 33-5 at half-time and only a miraculous comeback secured them the win.
In round six there wasn’t much between them and the Sunwolves at the break (12-5) and most recently against the Sharks they were outplayed in every area from start to finish and scored their only points – a try – in the 78th minute.
Getting off to a better start would relieve the pressure and ensure they play their own game.
Play with freedom
The Lions have always prided themselves on playing an attacking, expansive, attack-minded game, but they have been far off the pace this season.
They have been particularly disappointing in their familiar home surroundings, losing to the Bulls and Sharks, and just edging the Rebels. They were only convincing against the up-and-down Jaguares. They have appeared clueless at times, even leaderless, and the up-tempo, free-flowing game of previous seasons has been lacking.
They have scored 26 tries, 12 of which came in the games against the Jaguares and Rebels.
The Lions have looked like a team under pressure, perhaps because they have been with a new-look and inexperienced pack running out, but they must find their happy-place quickly. The 9-10 pairing simply have to guide the team better than they have up to now.
Take charge up front
While it is true the Lions are missing key former forwards like Ruan Dreyer, Jacques van Rooyen, Corne Fourie, Akker van der Merwe, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira and Jaco Kriel, and have had to deal without Kwagga Smith, Warren Whiteley, Cyle Brink and Dylan Smith at times because of injury, they have to find a way to again dominate in the forwards.
Their set-pieces have been decent enough, but they’ve been hammered at the breakdowns and lost the physical confrontations.
Malcolm Marx needs to step up as leader, and he needs those around him to stick up their hands and show they belong at this level. The Lions have always been a free-running and passing team, but they’ve only been able to play that way because the forwards have put them on the front foot.
Make more tackles
One of the areas the Lions targeted for a big improvement at the start of the 2019 season was the defence.
Coach Swys de Bruin said they wanted to be as effective defensively as they were in attack. And while they started decently in this department in the early rounds, they have conceded 30, 39, 33, 24 and 42 points in their last five matches. In total they have also let in 24 tries (to the 26 they have scored) to have the worst defensive record in the SA Conference.
It hasn’t helped the Lions that there have been regular changes to the team from one week to the next and defensive systems have been tested, but the Lions will have to tackle better if they’re to make an sort of impression this year. It is said that defence wins matches and that tackling is an attitude thing, well, the Lions now need to show some attitude.