In-form Lions players emphatically vindicated their selections for the Springboks during the June series against France, which bodes well for the business end of Super Rugby, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
In the first Test against France, Allister Coetzee selected as many as seven Lions players in the starting lineup, while handing debuts to Andries Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan and Ross Cronjé.
For the second clash, eight Lions player started, while this past Saturday, Jaco Kriel and Ruan Dreyer made their run-on debuts alongside five other franchise teammates.
It’s quite remarkable to think that virtually half of the Bok team was made up of players from one Super Rugby side throughout the impressive June series against France, but there can be no doubt that Coetzee’s decision to back in-form players was fully rewarded.
The cohesion and understanding between Cronjé and Elton Jantjies was central to the Boks’ success in the first two Tests, with Coetzee and Skosan never remotely looking out of place on the international stage.
Captaincy certainly appeared to bring the best out of Warren Whiteley; Franco Mostert was immense on defence throughout the series, while Malcolm Marx made the No 2 jersey his own after delivering a sequence of standout performances.
Yet there is no rest for the weary. This Saturday the Lions will swing straight back into action in their penultimate Super Rugby regular-season game against the Sunwolves, and the importance of this final stage cannot be underestimated.
The Lions are currently seven log points behind overall leaders the Crusaders, but the undefeated Cantabarians have only one remaining clash against the defending champions, the Hurricanes.
As it is, the Lions should pick up a full haul of points against the Sunwolves in Johannesburg this Saturday, with the final round of action then set to determine which side earns the right to potentially host the title decider.
Make no mistake, the Lions have every necessary weapon in their arsenal to successfully compete for this year’s Super Rugby title. Effective attack? Check. Organised defence? Tick. Formidable set piece? Affirmative. In-form players returning with confidence from the Boks? Confirmed.
This year, the Lions have only gone from strength to strength. Heading into the June international break, the Johannesburg-based side had already secured a home playoff, after securing the Africa 2 conference title with 12 wins from 13. With 64 tries to their name, a highly impressive 86% tackle-completion rate and a set-piece success of over 90%, the Lions have unequivocally established themselves as the complete product.
Of course, the real test for the Lions will come when they face top New Zealand competition in the knockout stage, while whether or not they can book a home final at their Ellis Park fortress is sure to be another key factor. Having said that, don’t bet against these Lions.
This is a group of players further along in their development from last year, and who are desperate to provide a fitting send-off for their beloved Gloucester-bound coach Johan Ackermann.
Photo: Piet de Beer-Strydom/HM Images