The challenge of the Lions Challenge
May 6, 2013 in Uncategorized
The inaptly named Lions Challenge has become a real challenge for the Golden Lions as the time of reckoning draws near. With less than three months to the Wooden Spoon Knock Outs the Lions Challenge is unraveling leaving the Lions with the task of arranging alternative matches on short notice.
Since French club Agen cancelled their trip down south due to budgetary reasons the French Barbarians have also cancelled their game and it is rumoured that the games against Montpellier and Grenoble are also endangered leaving the Lions with matches against Samoa, in South Africa for the winter tests, the Sharks and the Stormers.
The French Barbarians apparently cancelled as they had hoped for three matches in South Africa but only the Lions match could be arranged while Grenoble claims “a lack of guarantee from the province of Golden Lions for the organization”, according to the French rugby web site Rugby Rama.
The GLRU, however, announced this week that the games against Montpellier and Grenoble are still on the cards but will be confirmed later. The game against Montpellier will be depend on whether they make the Top 14 play-offs. The French Barbarians match will be replaced by an SA Barbarians side that will feature some of South Africa’s overseas based players.
This leaves the Lions with only four certain matches in June and none in July before the knock outs on 27 July and 3 August.
1-Jun-13 vs Samoa @ Ellis Park
8-Jun-13 vs SA Barbarians @ Ellis Park
15-Jun-13 vs Stormers @ Ellis Park
21-Jun-13 vs Sharks @ Ellis Park
To add to the problems of arranging alternative matches for July is the fact that the Currie Cup First Division competition starts on 28 June already with the result that none of the “B” division unions can play the Lions.
The junior Currie Cup schedules haven’t been released yet but given that the U/19 and U/21 competitions started mid-July last year, games against the Vodacom Cup teams of the Blue Bulls, the Sharks, Griquas and the Free State might not be viable as these teams normally contain a number of their juniors with the senior players in Super Rugby.
Meanwhile Samoa has announced their touring squad, which is made up of mainly overseas based players and is probably the strongest squad they have assembled outside of the World Cups. The game against the Lions start off their tour and will probably be used by them to try and gel their team before their first test against Scotland.
Is it all falling apart as some in the media suggest?
I don’t think so. The purpose of the Lions Challenge was always to prepare players and to keep players match fit rather than to necessarily give them Super Rugby level competition, impossible as all the Super Rugby teams are playing … wait for it! … Super Rugby and so far the players’ preparation and match fitness seem to be on track. With at least three games is July the only problem period in in July when, if the French teams pull out, the Lions will have no matches and are in danger of going into the play offs rusty, especially if one consider that their loan players only return two weeks before the play offs.
This is where the Lions need to look for at least two certain matches, one after the loan players have returned. If they can do that the Lions’ Wooden Spoon Knockouts Preparation Programme will achieve what was set out to achieve, albeit not quite in the same way as originally scheduled.