The media is full of hype about the Kings and their performances sowing the seeds of doubt in the minds of many people, including some Lions supporters, that the Lions will not be able to beat the Kings in the Wooden Spoon Knockouts.
I must be honest and admit that I was having some doubts myself. The Lions lost a number of players through transfers and retirements but they have some players out on loan to other franchises. The Lions have been playing against much lower level opposition over the last few months and then there is the issue of integrating their loan players back into the team before the knockouts.
One tends to forget, or ignore, the fact that the Lions preparation programme gets a lot more intense against better quality opposition in June and July in the run-up to the knockout matches when they play Samoa, the French Barbarians, Grenoble and Heineken Cup quarter finalists Montpellier as well as the Sharks and the Stormers, sans Springboks of course.
I then looked at the team the Lions can put together, barring injuries, and feel a lot more positive about the prospect of facing the Kings at the end of July. I looked at the players irrespective of current injuries, apart from Jaco Taute who we know will be out, as I don’t know when the injured players will be match fit again.
Lions players still available:
The Lions still have 11 players available from the match 22 that won the Currie Cup in 2011 and 12 players from the match 22 that played in their last Super Rugby match in 2012.
16 of the players in the match 22 for the 2012 Currie Cup semi final are still available.
In all 22 players who played Super Rugby or in the Currie Cup final or semi final are still available to play in the Knockouts, although the rumours are strong that JC Janse van Rensburg will be off to France soon especially now that he has once again been snubbed by Heyneke Meyer but until there’s something definite I’ll keep him in my squad.
Andries Coetzee, Anthony Volmink, Deon Helberg, JR Esterhuizen, Lionel Mapoe, Ruan Combrinck, Jaco Taute (injured), Dylan Des Fountain, Deon van Rensburg, Alwyn Hollenbach, Michael Bondesio, Ross Cronje, Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel, Derick Minnie, Franco van der Merwe, Hendrik Roodt, Callie Visagie, Martin Bezuidenhout, JC Janse van Rensburg, CJ van der Linde, Ruan Dreyer
Potential Golden Lions team for the knock outs:
(bold = players who have played some matches for the Lions in 2011 or 2012)
A potential match 22 for the knockouts contains only 7 players who didn’t play for the Lions in 2011 or 2012.
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Jaco Kriel, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg (captain).
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Franco Mostert, 19 Willie Britz, 20 Guy Cronje, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Deon Helberg.
Additional players, including injured:
Jaco Taute – Fullback/Centre (injured)
Ruhan Nel – Fullback/Wing
Ruan Combrinck – Wing
JR Esterhuizen – Wing
Dylan des Fountain – Wing/Centre
Deon van Rensburg – Wing/Centre
Ross Cronje – Scrumhalf
Warwick Tecklenburg – Loose forward
JJ Breet – Lock
CJ van der Linde – Prop
Julian Redelinghuys – Prop
Francois du Toit – Hooker
Robbie Coetzee – Hooker
Can the Lions win the knockouts against the Kings?
Yes, but it will be a tough clash of two different styles of rugby. The Kings have focused on defence in Super Rugby, looking for try scoring opportunities from the breakdowns and on counter attack while the Lions will be playing an open attacking game, looking for quick ball and running in tries.
The Kings’ strength is that, through their defence, they can soak up pressure and hit back when their opponents relax and that has been one of the Lions’ weaknesses in the past – they tend to play for 60 minutes per match – and one which the Lions will not be able to afford in the knockouts.
All credit to the Kings for their wins against the Force and the Rebels and their draw against the Brumbies but the fact is, the Kings’ wins came against the two worst teams currently in Super Rugby and they were still outplayed for large parts of the games with their perseverence and defence helping them pull off these wins. While the Kings have exceeded most people’s expectations they are by no means a good Super Rugby side but they have shown that they can hit back if you slack off.
For the Lions to win they will have to be more balanced in their approach, prevent turnovers and breakaway tries and they will have to play for 80 minutes as the Kings have shown they are very fit and will plug away for the whole match. If the Lions defence is not on song they will give the Kings the opportunities they look for.
That said, the Lions have the players to pull off the wins in the two knockout games and I believe they will have the focus and motivation as well. If the Lions lose out in the knockouts they stand to lose many of the players whose contracts expire in 2013 and with that any hope of getting back into Super Rugby until SANZAR allows a sixth SA franchise, by which time they will start back where they were in 2010.
Unfortunately, by forcing knockout matches into a competition that wasn’t designed for it, SARU has allowed this to become a win-lose situation rather than a win-win. With so much staked on the games for both sides the clashes are going to be brutal do or die afairs with the only priority being to win. Entertaining? Only maybe.