Friday, December 09, 2005

Award: Best Team on Paper 2005 Goes To...

The Lions were, unfortunately, yet again, the disappointment of the 2005 Currie Cup season.

To refer to the Lions as having probably the best team in the Super 12 and Currie Cup on paper, is almost as old as referring the Cheetahs as everyone’s second team. But unfortunately they prove this year in and year out.

Let’s have a look at the setup of the team quickly. You have a fairly good coach in Frans Ludeke. You have a home ground which in essence, is the fortress in South Africa no matter what the Bulls claim. You have a really well balanced pack with stars in certain positions such as hooker (Brits), Loosies (Wikus & Baywatch) and one of the most underrated inspirational captains in South Africa in Wikus. A revelation and one of the nuggetiest players at scrumhalf. His Bok partner and first choice flyhalf in Andre. One of the best distributors of the ball in Julies at 12. A monster on attack and defense in Fourie. And one of the most gifted footballers in Jantjes at 15.

Now comparing that to any other team, there is no argument that the Lions are probably the most balanced team in the local setup.

So why do they constantly fail in the big competitions and important matches?

Well I for one believe their approach to every game they go into is reason for this. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Wikus is a bad captain, or that the players lack motivation or the drive to win, or even that Ludeke is a bad coach, well maybe not bad but not the best for the team.

What I mean is that rather than play their own game, or towards their own strengths, the Lions seem to constantly fall into the trap of adapting their game within a couple of minutes into the match, to match that of the opposition.

Let me further explain or use an example. In the match against WP in Johannesburg earlier this year, one man was the difference between winning and loosing, De Wet Barry. The Lions was so worried in containing DeWet, whom they knew province will build their game around to get their speedy backs to cause havoc, they completely forgot, or failed to see, that the one area you must take province on to beat them easily, is by taking them on in the forwards.

They did that pretty well in the start of the match but a couple of touches of genius from DeWet made them completely shift focus from their original (what I perceived) game plan. With pressure easing in the forwards department the backs got much cleaner and quicker ball with a lot more space, and on the day without their Boks, the Lions did not have enough fire power in the back division to contain a rampant WP back three.

The Bulls in the semis is a further case in point, they completely blew the Bulls away in the opening 30 minutes of that match. Why? Because they played their own game according to their own strengths. The Lions forwards are maybe not as dangerous as the Bulls’, but they can definitely contain them, and they showed that in the opening 30 minutes. Their backs are completely in a different class though with players like Pretorius, Julies, Fourie and Jantjes, and it showed.

Then all of a sudden, the Bulls (by their now well known) niggling tactics got the better of them, and in a moment of utter stupidity and ill-discipline, they (even though it was only one player) lost the plot completely and gifted the Bulls 10 points on the stroke of half time.

After that, it was all too familiar for the Lions and their fans. They completely lost structure, hardly looked like attacking out wide again, and was forced to play the Bulls game at the Bulls pace. I mentioned earlier that the Lions can definitely perform a ‘containing’ role in the forward department, but man for man, if the Bulls get going, their pack will destroy most teams in the world. Ask the Crusaders and the Stormers.

So how did the Lions end up beating the current Currie Cup champs twice, home and away?

The answer in my opinion is simple. As mentioned earlier, the Lions are probably the most balanced team in SA, and the only other team in SA that comes close to that, are the Cheetahs. The Cheetahs, like the Lions, rely heavily on a collective effort from both forwards and backs to be successful. For this their game plans and styles they play needs to be balanced between the forwards and backs. As an example comparing it to the two other semi finalists, (no need to mention the Sharks here – their weakness is their game as a whole) they don’t have the forwards to match the Bulls respectively, and arguably they don’t have the backs to match WP.

The Cheetahs knew this going to Cape Town and shut their weakness, the province forwards, down effectively so their backs never came into the equation.

The Lions, did this for 30 minutes in Pretoria and ran riot, but failed to follow through on the execution.

Against the Cheetahs, the Lions, by default and the way the Cheetahs play, were afforded the opportunity to play their own game for 80 minutes, and it is no surprise, that after 80 minutes, the Lions walked away with the honors. Because it is simple, on paper, and man for man, the Lions are a better team than the Cheetahs, and in my opinion, the Lions, on paper, was the best team in the Currie Cup this year. Only problem is, against other teams like the Bulls and WP, they were not allowed, or failed to play to their own strengths for a full 80 minutes.

The old joke about replacing Ellis Park’s grass with newspaper might be the only way we will see the Lions delivering on their promise and win a big competition again, but I believe they have too much class and talent in the union to carry on disappointing their fans and the South African rugby public. The Lions will roar in 2006!


Thanks PA

Gonna read it now...
Damn PA

I know I asked fot it but damn hell that hurt big time.


You're saying it's a mental thing then, but the Lions do have aa player psychologist. So this is the guy who must get fired then....

Damn the Springboks for stealing Kitch Christie

Eventually the Lions / Cats will click for a whole season en dan gaan almal kak!

Well I not going to say Brilliant every time...but

Thanks, great read.


Yip, the feeling in Bloem was , we will rather play the Bulls

it is a strange old thing.

you can blame the coach, but imo he is not a bad coach.

you can blame the captain because it is his job to keep the players together and calm under trying circumstances and stick to the game plan or a plan that works. but can you, or do you dare blaming wikus?

or blame the psychologist for not getting the guys in a mental state to believe in themselves enough, but this guy is not the guy that makes things happen on the field so how can you?

attitude and self believe in sticking to a game plan is all about the confidence in that game plan, your coach and fellow players.

this is what has been quoted so many times regarding Rassie and why the Cheetahs were so successful. every single player bought into his vision and game plan, and believed it blindly. it is probably the greatest compliment to Rassie, the way he made players believe and buy into his plan - even after being threatened! and not just a few of the players, every single member of the squad.

but lets also not forget the importance of continuity, the cheetahs had the same team basically all year, the lions lost quite a bit of theirs to the boks. things like this takes time imo, how Rassie got it done in a year is probably the only mystery or magic trick he pulled.
Very well done.

I congratulated the Lions supporters at the beginning of September already, for I had the firm believe that they would win the CC.

Was actually very diappointed when they lost in teh semis and it was not because I hated the Bulls, but I knew the Lions was the better team.


They jsut screwed it up in one stupid moment of madness. That ten poiunts killed us.

Up to that point Wynand Olivier was Wayne's bitch, and no jokes, and Baywwatch was sorting the Bulls forwards out at the breakdown big time and Wikus was driving it up like a (for want of a better description) bull.

Then Gerhard Vosloo costs us 10 points in one go and we fold like a pack of f----ing cards...

Oh, the joys of supportingthe Lions.


We would have beaten your asses in the final make no mistake...

Rassie used our system of the 38-22 hiding against the Bulls in Pta and that's what beat the Bulls. The only problem is that the Lions didn't apply the damned system correctly...
Man I love it when people gets passionate

DavidS- sure you would killed us in the final- pity the Lions did not made it to the final and on using your "system"- it has been said that to copy someone is the ultemate compliment.
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