RYAN VREDE watch the Lions slump to yet another defeat, going down 34-20 against the Reds in Brisbane.
The week has been testing for the Lions and it ended in the worst possible fashion. A meeting between the domestic unions failed to resolve the issue of the how a sixth franchise will be accommodated in 2013, the Cheetahs indicated that they are not open to a merger and the details emerged of a R1.5 million debt to the Pumas and Leopards that, if left unsettled, will result in automatic relegation from Super Rugby.
Some say the Lions are playing for pride. That couldn’t be further from the truth. They’re playing for their Super Rugby future. And for 20 minutes they played with the desperation, intensity and intelligence that was befitting for men in their position.
Keeping the ball close they found some purchase in punching up around the fringes or when they set up pods of forwards and played through phases. They denied the Reds possession and made them look ordinary and beatable in the process, opening a 6-0 lead through the boot of Elton Janjties.
But the optimism that period elicited was relatively short-lived, the Reds completely dominating possession and territory in a devastating 50 minute spell thereafter. They scored through Liam Gill after depleting the Lions’ defensive line through a multi-phase attack. Mike Harris converted and added two penalties for a comfortable lead. They should have been further ahead at half-time (13-6), Harris spilling a ball with the line at his mercy and the ball being held up in the goal area just before the break.
The Reds replaced Quade Cooper – who had a relatively quiet return to action – at the break, but their primary threat was up front, with their powerful, patient and organised phase play. The Lions lost Franco van der Merwe for cynically halting one such rumble two minutes into the second half and the Reds capitalised immediately, Saia Faingaa powering over from close range and Harris banking the extras.
Five minutes later former schoolboy sensation Chris F’sautia started and finished a move that had the Lions chasing shadows, and when Jantjies and Jaco Taute conspired to butcher the simplest of tries by getting in each other’s way the writing was on the wall.
Under pressure the Lions reverted to the ugly and inefficient expansive approach that had accounted for their lowly log position. The Reds relish such brainless tactics and duly punished them after a runner was isolated, with the ball shifted wide to Will Genia who exploited an unset defensive line and sprinted 50m to score.
The Reds made a string of changes that affected their synergy, and, as they had in previous matches, the Lions profited from this, giving their long-suffering supporters an opportunity to speak of a brave effort. But they are fooling themselves. This is not a side fit for Super Rugby and unless the South African Rugby Union can convince the Cheetahs to alter their stance on a merger the Lions will watch this tournament from the comfort of their couches in 2013.