Recurring mistakes in the opening three rounds mean the Lions face another gloomy season in Loffie Eloff’s final stage of his three-year plan.
The bonus-point victory over the Cheetahs led some to believe this was a resurgent outfit. However, it merely covered up the basic mistakes and tactical naivety that is now synonymous with the team.
Although the Lions were never expected to beat the Sharks or Bulls, the manner of the defeats was worrying as South Africa’s two top sides exposed all their flaws.
The campaign can still be resurrected, but many issues need to be addressed before their next fixture in two weeks time.
The loss to the Bulls was simply down to tactical errors. If Andre Pretorius was selected to revert to a kicking-orientated game, it certainly didn’t show as the Lions still attempted their high-tempo game in stormy conditions.
The result: 16-0 down at half-time and the game effectively gone.
Wanting to play this type of game is all good and well, but under those conditions and pressures it remains a pipe dream.
After Round Two, the Lions’ stats made for some worrying reading, and a week later there was no real sign of improvement.
Handling errors that local club players would be embarrassed by typify Lions’ performances.
They made 70 handling errors in their opening couple of encounters, added to 14 against the Bulls, with Earl Rose and Henno Mentz (10 each) chief offenders.
Granted, the conditions in Durban (humidity) and the rain in Johannesburg made the pill slippery, but why the frantic game-plan is employed at such times is a mystery.
Apart from the four tries scored against a notoriously weak Cheetahs defence, Eloff’s charges have only scored one try in a further 160 minutes of rugby.
They had conceded 58 turnovers in two matches, and a further nine on Saturday make them easy prey for the top counter-attacking teams, as the Sharks showed in Durban.
Defence and one-on-one tackling remains a weakness. Surprisingly captain Baywatch Grobbelaar has fallen off the most tackles, but the No 10 channel – whether manned by Rose or Pretorius - remains the main avenue of attack for opposing teams.
There can also be no excuse that the line-out is still such a lottery after three rounds, with the 14 lost in the opening two matches the same number as all the other South African sides combined.
The Lions lost five more in the opening half alone against the Bulls and in their next fixture against the Stormers they’ll come up against Andries Bekker and co.
The match at Newlands will be the fourth and last of the Lions’ South African derbies, and they do have an opportunity of an upset against a disappointing Stormers outfit.
But any hope of this and a possible resurrection of the campaign will only come about with the elimination of basic mistakes and adopting a pragmatic game-plan for the full 80 minutes.
By Grant Ball