The Currie Cup is nowhere near the standard that this competition was once back in the days where Springbok rugby was stronger nonetheless the two matches in this year’s semi were great games to watch and I was impressed with the endeavour by all four teams to play ‘Modern Rugby’.
The first semi-final between the homeside the Cheetahs and the Lions played in Bloemfontein was the one that was more important to me as this was the game featuring my team the Lions from Johannesburg.
As many Lions fans were, I too was quite confident that the Lions could win this one but as early as the 20th minute it was becoming clear that the Cheetahs were in irresistable form. The Lions came very unstuck during Superugby when the Hurricanes came to Joburg and with a fast aggresive defence shut the Lions out of the game and pressured them into making the wrong decisions.
Now as much as Franco Smith has been working hard with the Cheetah’s attack he as all good coaches know that the game needs to be looked at as a whole. The opponents game must be analysed and their weaknesses found. By finding these weaknesses the coaching staff can devise a plan to beat their opponents.
So for me Franco must have had a look at both games that the Hurricanes played against the Lions. The Cheetahs dominance in this game was not built on their attack but rather an emphasis on an aggressive defence. The tackle by Torsten van Jaarsveld on Julian Redlinghuys, which very sadly resulted in a severe neck injury for Redlinghuys (Redlinghuys has been operated on and is expected to make a full recovery), epitomised what I’m trying to get at and this tackle was made well into the second half and victory was almost assured.
It was from the whole team and not just one tackle. All the men from the Free State were putting in big shots. I have not seen Raymond Rhule put in so many big hits in one game before and guys like Francois Venter and Nico Lee looked like they were on another level compared to their Lions counterparts.
What is difficult for me as a Lions fan is to go on the different rugby websites and read the match reports and then read the comments afterwards. There does seem to be a growing number of commentors that take huge pleasure in seeing the Lions fail. Which in a way is a backhanded compliment because if the Lions were nothing then there wouldn’t be the emotion that these commentors are demonstrating.
Many commentors called the Lions one dimensional and lack a plan B. This irritated me as they never called the Springboks one dimensional with Domkragger Morne Steyn kicking all the possession away. The Lions got hammered but did score 3 tries while the Springboks got hammered and never scored any tries.
These commentors may have a point though. Jaco van der Walt hardly kicked the ball and when he kicked especially on a couple of penalties it was inaccurate. Jaco has a great step and can step tacklers at very close quarters. The thing is he would step and then step again but not move forward and eventually someone would get hold of him. Now if you step the first defender then you must bolt forward from there. Jaco has both got great acceleration and is very fast so he is quite able to do this. Alternatively after stepping the first defender Jaco needed a runner running off of him to offload to.
These are techniques and skills that can be drilled into players with the correct application of training drills. Once one guy is breaking and making holes then other guys are going to find holes but the Lions were losing the battle of the gainline and struggled to settle into their game. The Lions love building momentum to their game but the Cheetahs snuffed them out very early.
On top of several options that could be added to the Lions backline I think the second row(Locks) looked a little light. Bobby de Wee is a great lineout man and I noticed in the game against the Sharks he made several carries but the Sharks continually tried to hold him up and he had to fight to get to the floor. Brodie Retallick is the correct size to go ploughing into defenders but he chooses not to whenever he can instead he uses his feet to step past the defender. Bobby take a lesson from that. Ruan Ackermann has filled in at Lock before but he still looks like a backrower(loose forward) filling in in the second row. He hasn’t got the size and power his dad has.
For the Lions they can have a few weeks break and then get into pre season training where they are going to have to step things up as many of their bigger names will only be joining them just before the start of Superugby.
For the Cheetahs they are one game away from putting some silverware in the trophy cabinet. I think the Bulls are going to be difficult to beat. Their forwards are looking good and I think the game will be a bruiser for the Cheetahs but ultimately the Cheetahs improvement under Franco Smith is really good for SA Rugby.