‘Inexperience’ no excuse for Lions

Dick Muir must look at his team’s own failings and not blame their results and poor performances on inexperience.

Muir has offered the same rhetoric after all the Lions’ five losses this season – that improvement is eminent at the Lions.

‘I thought the guys created a lot of opportunities, but we just didn’t round off those chances and we slipped some tackles at some crucial stages,’ has been Muir’s general cliche after every defeat. Sounds very much like Loffie Eloff over the last three years, doesn’t it?

Muir blamed the missed chances on the group being ‘inexperienced’, and believes the more time they play together the results will change.

But how inexperienced are they really? The Lions’ best performance of last year’s Currie Cup came in the final league match when they beat Western Province 27-25, which is now the first-choice Stormers team barring five players.

Looking at the Lions team that suffered the 73-12 embarrassment against the Waratahs, on that day against WP last year, nine players were different. Excluding the loss of Willem Alberts, the other eight changes actually make the Lions a stronger team and all these players were chosen by Muir himself as he deems them the better options.

Heinke van der Merwe replaced JC Janse van Rensburg – who started at loosehead against WP – Hannes Franklin in for Hans van Dyk, Willem Stoltz ahead of Nico Luus, JP Joubert ahead of Chris Jonck, Carlos Spencer in Herkie Kruger’s place, Walter Venter for Jannie Boshoff, Wandile Mjekevu for Johan Jackson, and Springbok Tonderai Chavhanga for Dusty Noble.

Van Dyk, Luus, Jonck, Kruger, Boshoff, and Jackson are all currently playing in the Vodacom Cup and that Muir has chosen other players ahead of them clearly shows that his argument that he has an inexperienced team is false.

In the current squad, Spencer has 100 Super Rugby games and over 30 Tests, while Chavhanga and Heinke van der Merwe have played Tests for the Springboks. Earl Rose, Franco van der Merwe and Jano Vermaak played for the Emerging Boks against the British & Irish Lions last year, while the former went on the Boks’ year-end tour in 2008 and 2009. Todd Clever is also an international.

JP Joubert has played for the Stormers, Blue Bulls and Cheetahs, while centres Walter Venter and Doppies la Grange have been playing Super Rugby for three and seven years respectively. Captain Baywatch Grobbelaar is also an experienced Super 14 campaigner. Muir has one or two truly inexperienced players, but this is no different to what any other coach has to deal with.

If the Lions could defeat Super 14-quality opposition on 10 October last year with poorer players, but not five months later, it must be the fault of the coaches.

The only reason the side have failed to gel has been due to a lack of structure instilled from the coaching staff. The poor preparation is also down to Muir’s lack of planning, where he rotated his side throughout the Super 14 warm-ups and in the competition-proper. With little quality available, the best side should have been selected from the start – it was never going to be difficult to decide who they were – and stuck with.

The fact is Muir’s over-loaded schedule has hampered his role at the Lions since he was appointed from 1 November. Muir was the only coach out of 14 in the competition who was not with his side from that date, as he left the squad to be run by Johan Ackermann and Hans Coetzee as he was on a disastrous Springbok tour as he looked after the midweek Boks.

In early December, Muir was also in Riebeek West to host the International Rugby Academy, as he is MD.

If the suits at the Lions, such as CEO Manie Reyneke and president Kevin de Klerk, thought the Super 14 would produce results with that lax build-up, they are also in a dream world and must take a portion of the blame. Every South African side uses the Currie Cup as preparation for Super 14. Not so the Lions, and thus their results shouldn’t be surprising.

By Grant Ball