Saru must end Lions’ misery

MARK KEOHANE, in his weekly Business Day column, says the Lions don’t deserve to play Super Rugby next year.

What now for the Lions? What now for coach John Mitchell and a franchise that surely has no right to a Super Rugby hand out in 2013?

The South African Rugby Union wizards who will determine the Lions’ future Super Rugby participation need to show some compassion and end the misery.

Why continue with the illusion that the Lions belong in Super Rugby? Kill this once mighty beast now. Make the right decision and send the Lions back to the Vodacom Cup.

The regression of the Lions has been gradual all tournament, but against the Brumbies the capitulation was spectacular.

I picked them to beat the Brumbies in Johannesburg. The squad had enjoyed a bye weekend and many had experienced their first interaction with Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer.

The response to the Bok coach’s comforting words and a weekend off was an up yours to Mitchell and the loyal Lions fans.

Most damning though was the absolute disregard for each other. This mob played like the losers their league position suggests and whereas in the past there has always been courage and fight in defeat, there was nothing of the sort to soften the blow of their most embarrassing defeat of the year.

Captain Josh Strauss’s post-match summary was equally embarrassing. The Lions did not lose because of a lack of concentration and there was absolutely nothing to be proud of on the night.

When the Lions won the Currie Cup in 2011 there were outrageous boasts that they would be a contender for the Super Rugby title and some fools were adamant they’d win the South African conference.

I could understand this misguided optimism among supporters if these plodders were playing in the northern section of the Vodacom Cup, but they have never threatened to do anything but finish in the bottom two of Super Rugby – and this season is simply consistent with a dismal last five years in which the Lions have won less than 20% of their tournament matches.

The Lions played like second-rate rugby citizens who didn’t believe they could beat a team high on confidence but no better in terms of overall quality.

There is no excuse for the manner of defeat; only disappointment and disgust.

The opposite is true of the Stormers, who won for the third time in four matches in Australasia and relied on the stingiest defence in the tournament to defy the Force in Perth.

The Stormers have conceded just nine tries in nine matches and this is on par with their defensive record in 2010 and 2011. It is a remarkable defensive statistic and while the attack is unremarkable (not one four-try bonus point in nine matches) the resolve and mental toughness of this side cannot be overstated.

The Stormers, like every other team, have been decimated by injury but it has never been used as an excuse and while their win against the Reds in Brisbane was their best of the tournament, the result in Perth was as good.

The Force are an average side, but weather conditions and the circumstance of so many injuries made for a demanding final tour match.

The Stormers were missing seven of the team that started the tournament and yet they played with the discipline of the best Stormers XV. They had composure, resolve and an inspiring respect for the basics of the game. This is a team that prides itself on fighting for each other. This is a team that commands respect and it is also a team that understands the most telling performance is the most recent.

It is also a team with a winning culture, which makes it easier for any youngster to step in and step up to the challenge. The opposite is true in Johannesburg where every player knows there is an 80% chance of defeat.

The Stormers currently represent everything you want in the psyche of the team. The Lions unfortunately don’t.

The Cheetahs completed the South African Super Rugby misery with a spectacular implosion against the Highlanders. It was a result that seemed impossible at 30-9.

But clearly, outside of the Lions winning, nothing is impossible in a tournament that does reward attack but also demands commitment on defence.