The Lions open their overseas tour with their toughest encounter against the Chiefs and a pragmatic game-plan is the only recipe for success.
After the match in Hamilton the Jo’burg franchise face the Blues, Reds and Force Down Under. The Chiefs are the form team of the tournament having put 113 points on the scoreboard in their past two encounters and they will relish a chance to play the Lions.
The ease with which the Hurricanes breached the Lions’ defence and scored five tries will be a major concern for Loffie Eloff as they now face the tournament’s most potent attacking unit with 26 tries.
Turnovers will be punished by the Chiefs and with handling errors and ball control regular failings of the Lions, similar mistakes will result in carnage in Hamilton.
The Reds, despite going down 50-26 and not being renowned for their pack, troubled the Chiefs with the pick and go when the game was tight. The Chiefs from No’s 6-15 can hardly be matched in the competition, but the tight five is the only chink in the armour that must be taken advantage of.
Flying from South Africa on Monday, jetlag will also be a factor and all these aspects point to a slow and conservative approach being the most likely avenue of success.
Eloff’s ambition has been for the team to adopt an expansive style, but if the Lions attempt to match the Chiefs there will be only one winner, and it won’t be close either.
A territory based game with a stern chase from the defenders is the recipe for an upset, but whether the Lions can successfully adopt such a game plan is doubtful.
Eloff has constantly lamented finishing and lack of composure and this continues to haunt his team. Try-scoring chances will not be as plentiful as they were at Ellis Park on the past two weekends and Down Under nothing can go a begging.
An upset over the Chiefs is not going to happen, but the three remaining games do pose realistic opportunities for success.
The Blues’ defence has been worse than both the Cheetahs and Lions (that says a lot), while the Reds and Force shouldn’t hold many fears.
The Lions’ corresponding tour two years ago produced mixed results and yielded eight points from two victories over the Aussie teams over the opening weekends.
As the tour progressed the Lions got weaker with dismal losses to the Blues and Chiefs, but in 2009 they will have to reverse this and improve as they travel.
What is crucial is setting a confidence boosting platform in the opening encounter against the Chiefs. An embarrassing hiding in Hamilton and the following three weeks will feel like three months.
By Grant Ball