It’s hard not to feel disappointed and a little down over the well-deserved victory of the Hurricanes over the Lions by 20 points to 3 in Wellington. The weather was poor with intermittent rain but the same for both sides. (As Nick Mallett said after the game, ‘If we hadn’t rested our best players for the match against the Jaguars in Argentina, the Lions, with a victory or a draw against the Jaguares, would have played the final at Ellis Park.’ Correct: I made the same comment strongly at the time and remain a fierce opponent of ‘resting’ players.) It might not have made a great difference but on hard fields underfoot, the Lions have played some brilliant rugby this season.
Were the Lions beaten today or did they lose? Difficult to say. The momentum was more with the Hurricanes than with the visitors. To cut a long story short, the match turned on three errors by the Lions:
Jantjies moving left from a scrum in his own red zone, flung out a hasty ill-directed pass, with his weaker hand, the right one – he’s left-handed - behind Mapoe. Mapoe then had to swivel to kick away possession into the hands of Corey Jane who scored. The poor pass led to the soft try. Not excusable. Why did Jantjies not kick for touch? Mystery.
An uncontrolled slapped ball from a lineout in the Lions’ red zone went awry and fumbling saw Barrett in for a try.
Jantjies missed two goalable penalties: Barrett goaled all his attempts at the poles.
End of story. A misjudgement, in my opinion, by Whiteley in the 34th minute of the first half, deciding not to take an easy 3 points, saw the Lions shoved off the ball in the ensuing scrum and penalised. In the end it didn’t seem to have affected the final result, but then, momentum is a funny thing and with the penalty the Lions would have been only four points behind.
Sustained pressure from the Hurricanes saw the Lions under constant and swift defence. Jantjies looked rattled and did not play with his usual composure because he wasn’t allowed to. It’s worth noting that in their last three matches, the Hurricanes have not conceded a single try. This is the result of sound and solid defensive coaching. (Why is John Plumtree not still at the Sharks?)
It’s been a wonderful competition on the whole. From a South African perspective, the Lions have placed the bar very high and it’s up to the other teams to match them and think and coach more inventively.
Until next time...
P.S. I can’t leave without some grumbling: interviews are routinely under-prepared, with a lack of intelligent questioning. Instead statements are made and interviewees expected to invent an answer; half-time so-called interviews with players and coaches are uncalled for – give the viewer no perceptive information and are a waste of time. (Did some PR flake get this idea from the US NFL? Like the rubbish about ‘conferences’, ‘franchises’, ‘carries’ etc.? When are statisticians going to register ‘poor passes’? I suppose ‘never’. They do not think! All commentators and analysts should undergo Intensive debriefing interviews. They all ‘ref’ too much and are not tight enough for me on tactics and strategy. Who the hell cares is they think a pass if ‘marginal’ or an offside decision is questioned? Answer: no one! LIDB: look in da book! I wish some of the ‘wise men on DSTV did not assume omniscience about a game they have never played. Today, a few of them ‘discovered’ rush defence. This is hardly new! Without effective grubbers and/or chip kicks, it cannot be effectively countered. Where have these amateurs been all season?