A difficult draw, rather than the exodus of players last season, is being given by the Lions as the main reason their Super Rugby side managed to win just one of its six matches this season.
“Four of our matches were overseas, of which one was against an international team,” said Rudolf Straeuli, chief executive officer of the Lions.
There was a feeling at Ellis Park that the overseas losses were not a true reflection of what the team could accomplish, and that they should be judged after more home games.
However, since last year’s Super Rugby season, the side lost coach Swys de Bruin, as well as players, such as Jacobie Adriaanse (retired), Danie Mienie, Malcolm Marx, Robbie Coetzee, Lourens Erasmus, Robert Kruger, Stephan Lewies, Kwagga Smith, James Venter, Warren Whiteley (injured), Nic Groom, Lionel Mapoe, Franco Naudé, Harold Vorster, Ruan Combrinck, Aphiwe Dyantyi (suspended), Madosh Tambwe and Sylvian Mahuza.
That is a long list and one that would deal a body blow to any Super Rugby franchise.
The Lions tried to do damage control by acquiring players, such as Jannie du Plessis, Willem Alberts, Jaco Kriel, Roelof Smit, André Warner, Dan Kriel, Duncan Matthews and Jamba Ulengo, but they couldn’t keep the Gauteng side from ending up in Super Rugby’s intensive care unit after six matches.
Players like Jan-Henning Campher, Pieter Jansen, Ruan Vermaak, Hacjivah Dayimani, Morné van den Berg, Manny Ras, Wandi Simelane and Tyrone Green will most likely need another season or two of experience before they become influential at Super Rugby level.
“It’s always a challenge to prepare players to fill those big shoes, and it takes time,” said Straeuli.
“We’re working hard on that and we’re confident that they will get there.
“Malcolm Marx, Jaco Kriel and Ross Cronjé will be back soon.”
Marx will be available to the Lions from July 1, but Kriel and Cronjé could be available again after the break occasioned by measures taken to fight Covid-19.
Marx’s true worth is now evident in the Super Rugby series, in which a player like Carlü Sadie doesn’t seem to be the same player he was when he had Marx next to him.
Marx’s leadership, line-out throws and physical presence are sorely missed.
Another problem that the Lions, as well as some other South African franchises, are facing is that there aren’t necessarily quality players available – everyone is contracted elsewhere.
The tough draw, an exodus overseas and inexperienced youngsters are acceptable excuses to an extent, but there are also concerning issues on the field that have contributed to their woeful tale.
Their line-out game without Marx and defence are two of the areas in need repair.
Ivan “Cash” van Rooyen and his coaching side have to take responsibility for that, but it’s not threatening their jobs yet.
The coaching side deserves more time, considering the Lions managed to make it into the final under their leadership, even if the result was unacceptable.
Super Rugby isn’t a series where you still want your coaches to be learning lessons but, unfortunately, that seems to be happening.
“I, Altmann Ahlers and the [Lions] board have full confidence in Cash and his coaching team,” said Straeuli.
“Everyone is very positive and is working very hard to get the results that everyone wants.
“We have to stay positive at this time [during the virus] and look after one another’s welfare.
“We all want rugby to begin again and it’s a big priority.”