The Lions need to lift their work rate and execution on defence if they are to retain their unbeaten record against the attack-minded Rebels, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Rebels have lost their last four home matches against teams from outside Australia. The Lions have never lost to the Rebels before. With those records in mind, one might expect the Lions to claim a much-needed victory in Melbourne this Saturday.
The Rebels made a statement, however, when they secured their first-ever win against the Highlanders in Dunedin last week. Judging by that performance, Dave Wessels’ team is well placed to break another record when it hosts the Lions in round six.
The Lions have been a team in decline since the 2018 season. The core of the side that featured in the 2016, 2017 and 2018 finals has departed, as have coaches of the quality of Johan Ackermann, Swys de Bruin and JP Ferreira.
The Lions were at their best when they looked to strike a balance between attack and defence. Indeed, their ability to secure turnovers from the breakdown and then strike against a fractured opposition defence was one of the keys to their success across that three-year period.
Nowadays, the Lions don’t have a scrum that can pressure that of the Crusaders. They don’t have individuals like Franco Mostert with the ability to read and exploit opposition lineouts to a game-shaping degree.
Across the board, they don’t boast the same physical edge on defence. As the stats show, one of their great strengths has become one of their biggest weaknesses.
The Lions currently rank 13th in the tournament for tackle efficiency (81%). They are at the wrong end of the scale for missed tackles (10th), and certainly aren’t winning turnovers like they used to, if their current rank in this department (11th) is any indicator.
While a number of stars have departed in recent seasons, the Lions have retained their penchant for attacking rugby. The numbers suggest that they while they are playing with intent, they patently lack the means to penetrate opposition defences and capitalise on a wealth of possession.
No team has averaged more carries or passes in this year’s competition. The Lions are among the top five teams in the tournament for metres made, yet have made the second-fewest clean breaks and rank 11th for points and tries scored.
How will the Lions fare against another team that likes to run the ball? The Rebels are among the top five teams for carries, defenders beaten and offloads. Their finishing has let them down at times, but they have some dangerous players such as Marika Koroibete who can punish a weak defensive line.
Perhaps the inclusion of Willem Alberts at No 7 will lend the Lions pack more balance. The former Springbok must lead the charge at the gainline this Saturday.
A more physical performance on defence may create opportunities for the Lions to counter-attack. The Lions will need the Bone Collector, and indeed every individual, to fire in this department if they are going to overcome an equally desperate Rebels outfit.
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