In a four-part analysis, JON CARDINELLI unpacks the improvements and shortcomings of the South African franchises.
The Lions were one of the top Vodacom Super Rugby sides across the 2016 and 2017 seasons. If they lacked anything in those campaigns, it was an effective kicking game to complement their attacking and defensive strengths.
They’ve lost a host of coaches and players since the end of 2017. One could say they’ve lost more than personnel, as it’s been plain to see that their defence has regressed and that their overall approach has lacked balance.
With that in mind, it isn’t surprising to see the Lions recording such lamentable returns in both the ‘tries conceded’ and ‘tries scored’ columns this year. The Lions have leaked too many tries, and the absence of a good defence has limited their ability to force more turnovers and create more counter-attacking chances.
The Lions ranked second for tries conceded in 2019, with only the Sunwolves conceding more. It’s little wonder that they finished fourth in the South African conference and failed to qualify for the playoffs.
SA TEAMS RANKING DEFENCE, DISCIPLINE AND KICKING
As the table above indicates, the Lions were on the lower end of the scale for tackles made. And yet, they were still among the top-seven teams for tackles missed.
Flyhalf Elton Jantjies, who struggled in this area last year, ranked second in the tournament for missed tackles (41) and finished with a concerning success rate of 65%. According to FoxSportsLab, the tackle efficiency of the other players, especially the backs, tells a story about the Lions’ issues.
Ross Cronjé (52%) was one of the worst on show. Others regulars like Tyrone Green (53%), Andries Coetzee (60%), Aphiwe Dyantyi (64%) and Nic Groom (67%) weren’t much better.
The forwards were also guilty of defensive lapses. Who could forget the moment where Kwagga Smith was repelled by Sevu Reece in the match against the Crusaders in Christchurch?
The Lions usually offer a lot on attack. This season was different, though, with the Johannesburg-based side finishing mid-table in terms of tries scored.
SA TEAMS RANKING ATTACK
It’s interesting to note that the Lions were the second-best team for linebreaks and ranked as high as fifth for running metres. These numbers, when compared with the disappointing try-scoring return, suggest that the Lions have a problem with their finishing.
Perhaps the drop in tries scored could also be attributed to the loss of top forward personnel to overseas clubs, as well as Warren Whiteley’s injury struggles over the course of the 2019 campaign.
In past seasons, the Lions boasted one of the best lineout and maul units and scored a lot of their tries from first phase.
This year, however, the Lions scored only 16 of their 53 tries from the set piece.