JOHANNESBURG – The three-time runners-up from 2016, 2017 and 2018, the Lions, have failed to reach the Super Rugby quarter-finals this year. They finished ninth overall and fourth in the SA Conference, having won just eight of their 16 games. Here we take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of their 2019 campaign.
When they roared…
Unfortunately in a season where the team never got on a roll and seemed to be hanging on by a thread throughout, there is not too much to get excited about. Individually, the performances of tighthead prop Carlu Sadie, lock Marvin Orie, loose-forward Kwagga Smith and fullback Andries Coetzee stood out, while wings Courtnall Skosan, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Dylan Smith and Malcolm Marx had good moments.
The other big positive and the highlight of a disappointing season was the emergence of a number of exciting young stars, who are the future of Lions rugby. Here one thinks of prop Sti Sithole, locks Ruan Vermaak, Rhyno Herbst and Reinhard Nothnagel, loose-forwards Hacjivah Dayimani and Vincent Tshituka, and backs, Gianni Lombard, Wandisile Simelane and Tyrone Green.
When they miaowed…
There were several “lows” during their campaign and the fact the Lions managed to win just one of six derbies hurt, and cost them dearly.
They beat the Stormers at Ellis Park in the latter stages of the competition, but they lost to them in round two and also went down to the Bulls and Sharks, home and away.
In recent years the Lions have challenged for top honours in the try-scoring stats, but this year they managed to score just 53 for eighth place in the rankings. Also, the Lions let in a whopping 64 tries, an indication their defence is in dire need of attention before next year’s campaign.
Coughing up Hairballs…
It was concerning and sad that head coach Swys de Bruin had to leave his team in New Zealand after allegedly suffering a breakdown due to stress.
One can only guess as to how his condition – for which he received and is believed to still be receiving treatment – affected the players and team, generally, this year.
Also, defence coach Joey Mongalo found himself facing indecent assault charges in Australia, stemming from an incident in a hotel while the Lions were on tour last year, and he, too, was forced to quit the team temporarily at one stage. He has appealed the guilty finding by a Sydney Court, but again, how did this impact on the team?
Lastly, the Lions were dealt a few heavy injury blows, most particularly to captain Warren Whiteley, who only started and played in four of the 16 games. Several other players were also regularly struck down by the injury bug.
It was a campaign that promised so much after the winning start in Beunos Aires – a first for the Lions in Argentina – but from the moment Marx was incorrectly penalised at a ruck in the game at Newlands which allowed the Stormers to sneak a win after the hooter had sounded things went pear-shaped for the Lions. It was the same game Whiteley picked up his chest injury, which caused all sorts of problems for the player and the team for the rest of the season.
A lack of continuity in selection cost the side fluency and momentum and they never were able to fully plug the gaps left by the departure of several high profile men in the last two years.