So the long awaited “non-grudge” game between South Africa’s newest Super Rugby franchise and the team they displaced has come and gone, with the Lions winning the game on the score board.
But who were the real winners on the day and why?
Here’s my personal take on it all:
Sitting in the stands witching this game, one had the feeling that the vast majority of Lions’ supporters were expecting a “big” win.
After all, their team had played 3 games together and the opposition had named a largely unknown team for what they (the Kings) were touting as nothing more than a Super Rugby warm-up game.
The rest of the South African Rugby public however, were touting it as a “grudge” match.
The Lions supporters came out literally in their thousands with more than 18 000 spectators at the game, the majority of them Lions supporters. I did however notice at least 10 Kings supporters as I was making my way to the Media Area to sign in before joining my wife and kids in the stands.
So, after a game which was still in the balance with 15 minutes to play, who were the real winners and losers in this game?
Well, despite what both Unions were saying prior to the game, this was no ordinary “warm-up” friendly. The Lions desperately wanted a “good” win, while the Kings in all likelihood wanted to defuse a potential disaster. Probably the reason why the Kings chose what was in effect a second string outfit.
The Lions started off like their lives’ depended on it, but refusing a shot at goal from an early penalty indicated an almost one minded approach.
The home team were shocked early after the Kings ran a ball in easily for an early try to silence the home crowd.
For the rest of the first stanza the Lions seemed to be in control, but their old problem of losing the ball in the contact area rose to the fore once again.
The Kings backline seemed somewhat ineffective at getting across the advantage line on the occasions when they had the ball in hand, but they did manage the tackle area quite effectively.
The Lions set piece in the first half was far superior to that of the Kings, with the scrum being a particular sign of worry for the Eastern Cape franchise, as well as an inability to stop or control the Lions’ rolling mauls.
The Lions seemed well positioned going into the break, and on the stands the mood was bullish (pardon the pun) to say the least.
HOWEVER, the second half was another story completely.
The Lions old inability to play for 80 minutes resurfaced. The defence around the rucks and mauls dropped to a level just below that of the club game that was played as a curtain raiser, a problem that has been one of their downfalls at Super Rugby level for the last 5 years, and the general ability to control ball in hand went out of the window.
It’s just not good enough from a team who want to show the Rugby world that they deserve to be in the sports toughest team competition.
For the Kings, half back Johan Herbst especially took advantage of the poor defence and strolled through for a brace of tries without a hand being laid on him.
His general play was also good with his service to his back line crisp and clean.
He certainly shouldn’t be out of his depth at Super Rugby level, and I’m sure will be targeted by some of the “bigger” franchises soon should his form continue in the same vain.
I was also impressed by Hadleigh Parkes in the centre who had an industrious game showing a lot of heart and ability on defence.
A major concern though for the Kings though must surely be the quality of their forward pack, who struggled throughout the game, especially in the set phases.
Their scrum was destroyed by the Lions in the first stanza, and only looked better (in my opinion) in the second because of the overzealous use of substitutes by Lions coach Johan Ackerman.
The Kings line out was also not really up to Super Rugby standards, and will I’m sure be targeted by the stronger franchises throughout the Super Rugby campaign.
From the stands, the only player who seemed to stand out in the Kings pack was Adongo who was certainly busy after coming on as a substitute.
There can however be no doubt that their pack will be considerably strengthened by the inclusion of players like Luke Watson and Bandiso Maku, and the backs by the return of the likes of Waylon Murray.
All in all though, in my opinion, the Kings can feel the more satisfied of the two camps. The fact that they were only outscored by ten points in a game where they were widely expect to be on the wrong side of a hiding can actually be considered a positive given the team they fielded.
There can be little doubt that they are going to find the going very tough in their first season of Super Rugby, and will, I’m sure be on the wrong side of some heavy defeats, BUT if they can gel as a unit, gain some sort of form and possibly win a game or two on the way, there is no doubt that they will be a very difficult team to beat should it come down to a promotion / relegation series against the Lions later in the season.
For the Lions, well I think this game may have produced more questions than answers for the coaching and management team, who I’m sure must be more than a little disappointed with the final result.
While the Kings will be facing consistently strong opposition throughout the Super Rugby series, the same cannot be said for the Lions, who‘s games will in all likelihood be against weakened clubs and representative selections.
From the Lions point of view, they will be hoping that the Kings have an arduous and difficult Super Rugby campaign with the degree and quantity of injuries that normally go with it.
The Kings will be hoping that as a squad they continue to gel and grow as a group, and will hope that the squad comes through the campaign with the minimum amount of injuries.
Either way, if the promotion / relegation series takes place, it could be a couple of exciting games.
In conclusion then, despite the result on the scoreboard, in my opinion this “bout” was won by the Kings on a split points decision.
Well done to them. Lions, you have to up your game.
Also as a personal opinion, on Saturday’s display, I don’t think that either of these two sides are good enough to compete for any honours in the Super Rugby competition, and given the history of SA sides in Super Rugby, probably never will be.
As for the referee Mr Jonker, He seemed to miss a lot and seemed to be a little inconsistent in his handling of the game, and I’ll leave it at that.
Finally 2 points I’d like to make, not really about the game, but concerning the game.
1. I’ve always been quick to criticise the Lions whenever the management team have acted in a way that I personally consider to be of a standard below what is expected and I’m now going to do so with the Kings.
It is TOTALLY unacceptable for a so called professional sporting organisation to fail to submit a Team Sheet in time for it to be included in the match day program.
It may not seem like a big deal, but the PAYING PUBLIC who have to dish out their hard earned cash, even if it is only R10 for a program, have a right to know who they’re paying to see, even if it is only a “friendly”!
You’re competing in a professional environment, please act in a professional manner.
2. My second piece of criticism surrounds our South African Rugby broadcaster, SuperSport / DSTV.
You continually refer to the matches organised by the Lions as “SA Franchise Challenge” matches.
They are not. They form part of the “MTN Lions Challenge”. Get it right please.