The Lions show must go on

Shaun Goosen

Winning the 2018 Super Rugby title would be massively significant to a side that has lost both of the past two finals, but hopefully the Lions bosses are looking well beyond next week to ensure that the team remains a championship contender long after the current crop of players and coaches exit the franchise.

Johan Ackermann’s departure from Johannesburg at the end of last season was met with mourning as his departure was seen as the premature end of an era in South African rugby. Scribes were quick to point out how the Lions would fail without the influence of their beloved Coach Ackies, and that they were incapable of evolving without him, but all is well in the City of Gold as Swys de Bruin has guided the team to a third consecutive final.

During his tenure, Ackermann stressed the importance of building a brotherhood; a legacy that would live on long after he – or indeed, any of his players – had left the union, and the Lions’ sustained success depends on maintaining those pillars.

There were plenty of factors that accounted for the Bulls’ decline following the golden period that saw them win three titles in four years from 2007 to 2010. Perhaps most salient was their failure to groom replacements for what were some truly exceptional players, and to continue to develop a winning game-plan.

In spite of the mass player exodus from the Lions of late (most of whom have joined up with Ackermann at Gloucester), they simply have to retain as many players of value as is possible. Certainly, the news this week that captain Warren Whiteley and Andries Coetzee have signed new deals is a big step in the right direction.

But, regardless of who lifts the trophy next week, the Lions need to keep the bigger picture in sight.

The decision to appoint De Bruin (a man who worked beside Ackermann during his head coaching stint) as the new Top Cat has also been vindicated. However, if the Lions fail to lift the trophy this season, the boardroom bandits can expect a backlash of note. Their credibility will doubtless come into question, as will their decision to let Ackermann leave.

In fact, so much focus will fall on the loss of Ackermann that few would even bother to appreciate how good the current situation at the Lions is, especially considering their relegation from Super Rugby in 2013.

A first-ever Super Rugby crown would be a seminal moment in franchise history and, until they win one, that must always be the top priority. But that is a perennial objective and the Lions must not let their hunger for the 2018 title undermine Ackermann’s greater vision to drive the Lions to the top and keep them there.

Getting to the top is secondary to staying there.

Follow Shaun on Twitter: @ShaunGoosie

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- Shaun Goosen

Let's chat

  • Jon Byrne Jon Byrne

    Great Read Shaun,

    Completely agree with you and it’s very important that the Lions do not loose sight of the bigger picture, unfortunately us South Africans are obsessed with silverware and we measure our success only by winning trophies instead of building teams for the future.

    The Lions players exodus will continue I believe and there’s very little the Union can do to stop it, the good thing is it seems like they are breeding some young and exciting talent that’s coming through the ranks and will be able to make the step up! Hopefully the Lions go all the way and really give the Kiwis something to complain about!

    • Spartan

      Sports is all about winning silverware. Otherwise what are you building for?

      • Jon Byrne Jon Byrne

        Silverware is the end the result, but building a team to win matches consistently year in and year out!

  • Spartan

    Many problems with this article.

    Firstly, lifting the trophy is the ultimate goal over the next two weeks. It’s the only thing that should matter for the whole union right now. We’ll worry about sustainability after the next two weeks.

    “The decision to appoint De Bruin (a man who worked beside Ackermann during his head coaching stint) as the new Top Cat has also been vindicated. However, if the Lions fail to lift the trophy this season, the boardroom bandits can expect a backlash of note. Their credibility will doubtless come into question, as will their decision to let Ackermann leave.”

    De Bruin’s appointment has not been vindicated yet. Remember he’s the only SA coach not to beat a New Zealand team this year. And the Lion’s staff didn’t “let Ackers go”. He left for a higher salary.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Spartan, Of course the ultimate goal is winning trophies but a competition is made of multiple teams and only one can win it in the end. I don’t believe any team goes into a competition not planning to win it. The Lions whole focus is on Saturdays game at the moment and the writer was merely stating that the good work of the past few years must be sustained going forward. Nothing wrong with that is there ?

      I agree with you regarding the boardroom comments however. The other Franchises can only dream of having a board and staff that boast the success of the Lions these past four years and his inference that they must be taken to task if they do not win it this year is way over the top. The difference between winning and losing is dependent on so many factors ( last years red card in the final a case in point ) that to question the ability of the Lions set up, especially in the SA Franchise context, is quite ludicrous. They should indeed be applauded for giving us a team and coaching staff that has at least held the SA rugby flag high these past few years. I think we all know which Boards and coaching staff should be given a solid klap for their under performing teams. and be held to account, lol.

      I do believe De Bruin, irrespective of next Saturdays outcome, has proven to be an adequate replacement for Ackerman. It was a pity breaking up that partnership but the try scoring feats this year match previous years and the try scoring bonus points nicely replaced any unexpected losses ( Blues, Reds and Crusaders ( 14-8 ) for that matter. Another victory for expansive rugby Lions style so let’s doff our caps to the entire Lions Franchise. Cheers.

      • Herman Schroder?

        Sorry guys my second paragraph is incorrect so my apologies to the writer Shaun Goosen.. The writer was obviously describing how the critics of the Lions would respond to the Lions losing the final again. All the praise I heap on the board etc in the paragraph is valid and well deserved. Cheers.

  • Ben

    First ever Super crown is also incorrect!!

    • humblepie

      Yes. I also noted it.

  • Herman Schroder?

    So last week the mighty Lions beat Argentina, today they beat a shadow Aussie test team and next week take on the All Blacks in their own backyard. Two down and one to go to complete the perfect ‘international’ trifecta. Congrats to the pride of SA.

    I bet there were many who questioned the Lions decision to not kick penalties when on offer during today’s match. Two of the turned down penalties resulted in 14 points for the Lions the equivalent of about five kickable penalties, assuming you convert them of course. If you want to exert scoreboard pressure surely that’s a better way to do it ?

    Note those Franchises who tended to take their kicks for posts to the joy of their supporters however only flattered to deceive still being unable to comprehend why they did not make it and in some cases were not even in the frame. It’s not my place to knock these Franchises but when will the penny finally drop ?

    The Lions lost a few close matches too many this season but made up for it with try scoring bonus points. That’s why they qualified for the Final once more and two playoff matches at home. De Bruin’s game plan has been vindicated imo, risk and reward at it’s finest. Cheers.

    • Dr Hoffman

      Well said Herman, u should have written this article.

    • humblepie

      Good points Herman. I have a suspicion that the Boks will find it difficult to match the Lions comprehensive beating of the Argentines. And to think that the current starting 15 of the Boks only has 2 Lions players. Hau.
      I have never paid much attention to the paranoia of most writers that the Lions should kick their penalties. Those writers have the same philosophy than the teams that ended 11th and 12th and the Lions have successfully avoided taking advice from that corner. Good job.

      • Herman Schroder?

        Quite right Humblepie. None so blind as they who will not see.

        How good was Cronje today. Faf ( a Lions player anyway, lol ) the front runner at scrummie but they musn’t tell me that the other three bench guys are better than Cronje. Which Franchise has a better all round fullback than Coetzee plus his experience. Dreyer, Combrink, Mapoe, Kwagga should all be in a trimmed down squad on merit. Rassie has got a huge selection headache coming up. Also as Mallet said on SS you simply cannot leave Jantjies out of the mix. Cheers.

  • Jon Byrne Jon Byrne

    When Super Rugby teams do well there’s that notion that the National Setup should be comprised with mostly the players from teams that made the final or semis because they will carry the momentum and confidence over when playing for the Boks! This morning with the HU vs CRU match there were 20 All Blacks spread out between the 2 teams.

    Understandibly they were the best 2 teams in terms of log points in the competition and you’ll see a lot of them making the All Blacks side. At least 6 or 7 Lions will make the Springbok group but my guess is only 3 or 4 of those players will be in the match day squad!

    What’s your thoughts on this?

    • humblepie

      Yeah Jon. I dont know what to expect from Rassie but I will give him the benefit of the doubt. He is a vast improvement compared to the previous occupant. I just sense that his office is too close to Newlands with contagion risks of mediocracy and old school thinking. Stay strong Rassie!

  • humblepie

    An opinion on 2019 Super Rugby prospects:
    The Lions have been written off every single year in the past 3 years. The experts offered different reasons with one common theme… they were dead wrong on every occasion.
    I suspect the top teams in 2019 will be the same 3 teams than in the preceding years.
    The sport writers say that the Lions will lose players in 2019 and this time they will not succeed. Really? Their paradigm prevent them from understanding the bigger picture. How you play your rugby proved to be much more important than which players you use.
    The other RSA teams? The jury is still out on Mitchell, the Stormers will be bottom of the log with Fleck and the Sharks will find it difficult to lift themselves to the next level. Du Preez may be a nice guy but he has serious old school style problems. Dick Muir is different and holds the key to their revival.

    • Dr Hoffman

      Those writers/ experts are all sharks/ stormers and bulls supporters. Just like the bok selectors. They cant stand the fact that the Lions have been top dog for 3 years. Hence we still get garbage like DDA and others in the bok team.

    • Herman Schroder?

      Spot on. The only thing consist about the other three Franchises was their poor consistency over the three years, lol. Cheers.

  • humblepie

    Jaguares…. interesting. Noticed how they changed their style to a more fast paced, ball in hand and modern approach? Expect them to be a serious contender next year. Unfortunately their remote position will remain challenging but I lift my hat for them that they dont whine about the format.

  • Jon Byrne Jon Byrne

    Great stuff Humble pie

    Couldn’t agree more, except Mitchell is completely overrated, if you look at what he has done in the past? Struggled with every single team he coached, the Bulls started playing more attractive rugby sure, but they still ended bottom of the log! Our obsession with plying a NZ style of rugby has made us think that Mitchell is the answer. He has made it clear that he needs more quality players hence the Duane & Brits link to the bulls, given it’s his first season taking charge of the setup he’ll get another one! Iam sure Rassie has to intervene at some point given that SA coaches are reporting to him.

    Stormers has some serious issues to sort out, it also doesn’t help that the Union is closing in on bankruptcy and enveryone trying to take them to court, they’ll give Fleck onother year but the behind the scenes with the likes of Wakefield at the helm will make the stormers outfit a joke come next year!

    Sharks have the talent, they should be one of the top teams in the competition and at times played brilliant rugby, but way too inconsistent, they shouldn’t have made the quarters and were very lucky to do so! I believe they’ll come around next year only if Muir has a more key role to play like you said!

    Jaguares are a solid unit and very well coached, they came through strong in their last 7 matches, how is it possible that Argentina can’t manage to do the same given 95% of them play for the Pumas? Politics? Bad coaching?

    • Herman Schroder?

      Jon, the Jaguares SR coach has just taken over as their national coach so there will be more continuity in the future. Watch out for them even in this years RC.

      Unless the Stormers and Sharks get new top class coaches as you say, there will be more of the same next year. Mitchell will pack his bags very soon in my opinion and the Bulls will be back to square one.

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