Giving the Lions some horns

Keo, in his weekly Business Day newspaper column, suggests Heyneke Meyer is the person to harden the limp Lions.

Why is it in this country that local is never lekker and foreign is always deemed finer?

We see it with our national soccer coaching appointments, and when it comes to rugby in Super 14 a foreign name always passes as a quicker fix than anything born or bred in the Republic.

There is a place for foreigners in South African sport and there should always be engagement with foreigners when it comes to ideas and cross-examination of what we are doing. But when things go sour with one of our teams, going foreign is no guarantee of turning that taste sweet.

Loffie Eloff is on his way out as Lions coach and he can’t argue unfair dismissal after his three-year Super rugby plan amounted to nothing. Eloff’s best moments came in his first month in charge, but thereafter it has been a case of hollow promises and emphatic defeats. Eloff should do the honourable thing and announce his resignation before the axe falls.

It makes no sense for him to go now as the season can’t be salvaged, but a mature departure (read confirm resignation effective end of Super 14) would allow the administration to pursue a proper process to find a successor who may bring long overdue success.

The Lions hierarchy two weeks ago wanted Jake White and Eddie Jones to take over on the Monday after the Brumbies match. When White declined they approached Jones to be a consultant to Eloff. Jones predictably also declined. The Lions administration, typically, then told the media that Eloff’s job was never under threat and that the chat with White was informal and there were no overtures made. It is this kind of dishonesty that serves no one and it would only have added to the illusion that Eloff had a future with the Lions beyond May.

Eloff is gone. Communicate that to him and start finding his replacement through proper process and not with a kneejerk reaction. Within hours of the Lions defeat against the Hurricanes the name of former All Blacks coach and Western Force coach John Mitchell had jumped the queue.


Mitchell’s three years at the Force has been disastrous. The side has never threatened a top four and continued fallouts between Mitchell and the players have characterised the last 18 months. The rift was so bad it warranted a formal investigation, after which Mitchell’s powers were decreased and he was told to change his ways and adapt to the demands of the players. Mitchell’s star signing Matt Giteau refused to renew his contract and will play for the Brumbies in 2010 and other players are also on the move.

Now the Lions want to invest in Mitchell?

There is no quick fix to the Lions and there has to be a long-term plan from a long-term person who puts South African rugby ahead of all else. That person is Heyneke Meyer and he is local and in this instance local is lekker.

Meyer, the man who turned the Bulls from chumps to champs in a five year period that tested his resolve and reason for loving rugby, is available to South African rugby after family illness forced him to relinquish the Leicester head coach job.

He is in need of a challenge and he is capable of making playing for the Lions fashionable again because the rabble he inherited at the Bulls nearly a decade ago is similar to what parades as a rugby stronghold in Gauteng.

It is sad to see Ellis Park (Coca Cola Park in the modern world of sponsorship) ghostlike at every Lions Super 14 home match. Most watch from television knowing to expect the worst and what should be the fortress of South African rugby is a walking bonus point for visiting teams.

The Lions can be transformed but to do so the administration has to go to the guy with an attitude as influential as the altitude at which the Lions play their home games.

Meyer understands the culture of the Lions, just like he did at the Bulls. And he would be the first to tell you that culture is not that of a defeatist.

There can be no harm in asking Meyer to submit a five-year plan and then asking him to implement it. The other alternative is to continue to dig for fool’s gold in the form of Mitchell or the next foreigner.