Spencer helps steer sinking ship

Carlos Spencer is cagey about his new role as an interim coach of the Lions, in the wake of John Mitchell’s suspension.

Currie Cup champions the Lions have had another dismal season at franchise level – snatching just two wins from 13 fixtures in 2012. They’re lying second from the bottom on the overall Super Rugby log, one point ahead of the Blues, while they’re a massive 16 points behind the Cheetahs at the base of the South African conference.

If relegation from Super Rugby becomes a reality – to make way for the Southern Kings in 2013 – the Lions are already dead and buried.

Off-the-field politics couldn’t have come at a worse time. Once again, Mitchell’s coaching methods have come into question, leading to his suspension last week. A list of grievances presented to Golden Lions Rugby Union president Kevin de Klerk is being investigated. In the meantime, assistant coach Carlos Spencer has been tasked with leading the embattled franchise through their three remaining fixtures, sharing the coaching duties with Johan Ackermann.

‘I haven’t had a chance to see the players,’ said Spencer, when asked what kind of impact Mitchell’s suspension had had on the team. ‘It was the players’ decision to speak out. Whether I agree with their sentiments, well, I can’t really comment on that.’

‘I’m meeting with Kevin this afternoon about the way forward’, he added.

Super Rugby resumes this weekend after the international Test window, with the Lions set for a tough reintroduction against the Stormers at Newlands. Spencer has been thrown straight into the deep end against a side with the best defensive record in the competition.

‘We’re going to have to try match [the Stormers] physically,’ he said. ‘Unlike a lot of the Stormers players, our guys have had a long break and are probably a bit rusty. I reckon it’ll take 40 minutes before we get into the game.’

Injuries to props CJ van der Linde and Pat Cilliers will surely compound the Lions’ woes, and Spencer will have to test the depth of a squad who are coming off a surprise win against the Sharks.

‘I’m not sure if we’ll field the same team, we’ll have to see how the boys get through training this week.’

With regards to the Lions’ potential relegation from Super Rugby, president De Klerk has dug in his heels and still believes a compromise can be reached to accommodate both the Kings and the bottom-placed South African franchise. For Spencer however, his solution is a philosophical one.

‘Nobody likes uncertainty, but that’s out of our control,’ he said. ‘We’ve just got to get on with it and focus on our next challenge, which is the Stormers on Saturday.’

By Nick Pawson