RYAN VREDE reports on the Crusaders’ 23-13 victory over a tactically naive Lions at Ellis Park.
Yet another loss where the Lions played what they deem beautiful rugby. Their supporters will settle for an ugly, deformed or downright hideous win right now.
The excuse about injuries doesn’t wash. Every team has injuries. Their problems are rooted in coach John Mitchell’s refusal to relinquish a misplaced belief in a fundamentally flawed game plan. The Lions continue to play a brand of rugby too heavily weighted to the expansive. It lacks the balance needed to make them a consistently threatening side.
The Saders were uncharacteristically porous on defence in the first half (missed 10 tackles and lacked the physicality at the gainline that has traditionally been the bedrock of their success). Yet for all their possession and territory the Lions led by just three points (13-10) at the break. They will point to missed opportunities that could have extended their lead, but those sorts of errors have become chronic.
The Saders scored with one of their first opportunities in the half, Dan Carter expertly picking out Zac Guilford’s run on his inside shoulder. It was an ominous warning for the hosts, who despite scoring a converted try just before the break, had exhibited little to inspire.
The Saders started brilliantly after the break, Sean Maitland collecting the most sublime grubber from Israel Dagg to score. Tom Taylor converted and kicked two penalties thereafter to give his side a 10-point lead.
Still the Lions had the ascendancy in the territory and possession stakes and were forcing the visitors into a plethora of tackles. But there was a marked sense of composure on defence from the seven-time champs, who committed few to the breakdown and around the ruck fringe, safe in the knowledge that the Lions would not seek to punch up close through phases.
The Lions became increasingly cavalier as their desperation grew and this suited the Saders, who isolated runners and kept their breakdown turnover count ticking over. The Lions never looked like winning. They simply didn’t have the tactical capacity for it.
Expect Mitchell to point once more to his injury list and speak of this loss as a lesson. Bullshit. He needs to be accountable for what promises to be yet another disastrous Super Rugby campaign under his watch.