Embracing mediocrity

The Lions may have improved on last year’s wooden spoon, but the 2009 campaign was far from a success.

Loffie Eloff’s much publicised three-year plan hasn’t materialised. At the start of his tenure he envisaged the Lions competing in the Super 14 semi-finals this year. However, speaking to this website at the start of 2009 he readjusted those aims to a top seven finish.

The Lions ended in 12th position, 13 log points off the intended aim, and with two rounds remaining it was already impossible to achieve this modest target.

Under Eloff the Lions have now won just 21 from 66 Super 14 encounters and Currie Cup matches against the traditional four South African teams of the Sharks, Bulls, Cheetahs and Western Province – a 32% record that is a failure in anyone’s reckoning.

Defence is the trademark of any proud side, but the Lions gifted 56 tries over the season. Eloff has said there is nothing wrong with the structures, but that implies the attitude is questionable and the players can’t be playing for him. They were a walking bonus point for the opposition and handed the Stormers and Force their biggest victories of the season (in the latter case their history).

Eloff maintained there was a ‘three-year plan’, but Barry Goodes arrived from Italian club rugby in late 2008 and the next minute was one of the favourites. Goodes, originally from the Free State, relegated a local boy in Walter Venter to Varsity Cup rugby, the same Venter who was solid in the earlier stages of Eloff’s reign.

The Goodes experiment was just one example that failed and showed their was no clear plan from the get-go and that Eloff was clutching at straws. Neither of the above centres are world class, but there was no rationale in the selection process as Goodes was soon banished to Vodacom Cup rugby.

The Lions only have the solitary current Springbok in Jaque Fourie, but how long will he put up with the situation at the union? Although he had a fine season personally, his patience must be wearing thin.

Eloff  has highlighted how his team wouldn’t have been in a potential promotion-relegation match as they finished above the Cheetahs, but surely they should be measuring themselves against the best. If a top four finish was the aim three years ago, that goal should have been realised, and now that it hasn’t, someone has to be held accountable.

Manie Reyneke and co claimed they backed Eloff but midway through the season they had lost faith in the coach when they approached Jake White and Eddie Jones to take over immediately after the Brumbies match (which they ironically won).

Eloff is not the only person to blame and although his stay has been a failure, the situation in Johannesburg doesn’t lend itself to a new coach coming in and turning results around.

Reyneke’s revelation that a rugby ball is oval-shaped and not round, when he blamed their losses on the bounce of the ball and bad luck just goes to show how the union is embracing mediocrity. The executive have allowed a underperforming culture to pervade throughout and for that they must take accountability.

Eloff has pointed to his idealistic expansive game-plan as a positive due to the entertaining rugby produced. But the public wants results and that showed as less than 10 000 people attended the last couple of home games – a chilling sign that change is necessary at Ellis Park.

By Grant Ball