Columnists 25.7.2018 12:06 pm

Better late than never for Lions I suppose

Jaco van der Merwe.

Jaco van der Merwe.

For far too long the Lions have been too obsessed with wowing the crowd with spectacular tries and refusing to back down from their approach.

Time: Almost 12 months ago to the day.

Place: Ellis Park.

Event: Super Rugby quarterfinal.

Result: Erratic Lions edge streetwise Sharks with a last-gasp penalty.
Fast forward to 2018.

Time: Last Saturday.

Place:Ellis Park.

Event: Super Rugby quarterfinal.

Result: Cool-headed Lions defend like trojans and feed off scraps to breeze past gritty Jaguares 40-23.

The manner in which the Lions reached the semifinals in 2017 and 2018 could not be more contrasting.
But interestingly enough, neither could the two seasons leading up to these two games.

In fact, you’ll be excused for thinking that the two seasons and quarterfinals got mixed up.

In 2017 the Lions dominated throughout the regular season, winning all of 15 from their 16 group matches.

They scored the second-most tries in the competition and conceded the least on their way to the play-offs.

But oh boy, the quarterfinal was not a true reflection of how the No 1 team on the overall table should play against the team who made the play-offs ranked No 8.

Refusing to alter their gung-ho approach on attack, they ran into serious trouble against the Sharks and I won’t blame a few Lions fans if they’re still out of breath from Ruan Combrinck’s miracle kick from what seemed like the other side of the earth.

In 2018 the self-same team had to wait until their very last match of the regular season to secure home play-off advantage.

This time around they won only nine and suffered all of seven losses during their run to the knockout stage.

They might have have been joint-highest try-scorers along with the Crusaders, but their defence has let in more than double the number of tries than during their previous campaign.

In short, they have been extremely feeble at times, throwing away a handful of matches and becoming very one-dimensional.

And then the quarterfinals roll along and they suddenly look more like championship material than they ever did during the season.

They held off wave after wave of the Jaguares’ attacks, took the three points on offer for a change and converted chances into points, opportunistic or not.

That is what you call championship rugby and this is how you win titles.
You don’t have to look much further than France in the recent Fifa World Cup to work out that pragmatism trumps attacking flair more often than not.

And that’s not saying France don’t have the arsenal to rip any team apart, in fact, they had some of the deadliest
weapons in Russia.

But they knew that absorbing pressure and scoring a goal here and there was always a better recipe than going in guns blazing.

Like their 1-0 semifinal win against Belgium, who could score at will up until that stage, proved.

For far too long the Lions have been too obsessed with wowing the crowd with spectacular tries and refusing to back down from their approach.

And what have they got to show for their efforts in 2017 and 2016? Nothing.

It will be ironic if they somehow find the means to go all the way this year, bearing in mind they still face two big hurdles.

But at least they look better equipped now than during Combrinck’s famous kick.

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