Side Entry: Lions upheaval no cunning plan

When Lions chief executive Rudolf Straeuli began crowing about how his coaches had got one over the Chiefs by announcing a starting line-up they had no intention of playing this week, I couldn’t help but think back to something that happened in 2003 BS (Before Staaldraad).

The day was July 12, and former Springbok inside centre De Wet Barry, who had been ignored by then Bok coach Straeuli to the point of fretting about his green and gold days being over, defensively laid waste to his opposite number Steve Kefu to the extent it ended his career with the Wallabies.

In the press conference that followed, the Bok management team got it in their heads – and instructed Barry to say so to the media – to spin the player’s surprise return to the team as part of some elaborate World Cup plan on Straeuli’s part.

So when the Lions boss was quoted as saying they had conned the Chiefs with their selections this week, it sounded an awful lot like another Baldrick-esque cunning plan to deflect from the fact that the team which has made the last three Super Rugby finals in succession is in upheaval, especially after head coach Swys de Bruin abruptly returned to South Africa hours before the Chiefs game.

A Lions insider’s take on De Bruin mysteriously leaving the team, which was eventually put down to stress, was that the final straw for where the coach finds himself had been Lions vice-chairman Altmann Allers vetoing a team in which he actually had dropped Springboks Malcolm Marx and Elton Jantjies for the Chiefs game.

As the money behind the Lions, one can almost see where Allers is coming from in what is a glimpse of what could happen once the rugby franchises are privatised. Allers has been paying top dollar for players like Ruan Combrinck and Harold Vorster, to pick two examples, but he hardly sees them play.

Also, De Bruin’s selections this year have sometimes taken out-of-the-box thinking to its illogical conclusion: Marx has finished games at flank; lock Stephan Lewies has done time at blindside flank; Marnus Schoeman, Kwagga Smith and Hacjivah Dayimani have formed a schoolboy sized loose-trio; Dayimani has turned up at centre and so has Bok wing Aphiwe Dyantyi.

On the field the Lions, who hadn’t lost to a SA franchise since 2015 before this year, have not beaten one of their compatriots and have suffered from the inconsistency of the rest of their countrymen.

But the real issues facing Straeuli are how long it’ll take for De Bruin – who intriguingly is one of the Springbok assistant coaches at the moment, to be fit for duty again and, once that is sorted, how to fix the relationship between his coach and vice-chairman.

With recovery from stress being one of those “how long is a piece of string?” things, the next question facing the Lions is who would replace De Bruin in the interim and, given that he’s just had his contract extended by two years, or in the long term if it came to it.

The reason that becomes such a big question is Ivan van Rooyen, who is currently in charge in New Zealand, has two minutes’ experience in the job after last year’s Currie Cup, and the nearest thing to a head coach after that is Sean Erasmus, who was a schools coach just last year.

Defence coach Joey Mongalo would have been the logical call, but his career hangs by a thread – pending his disciplinary hearing at the union – after he was found guilty of sexual assault in Australia. If anything, the most qualified person for the job is Straeuli.

Yet he’s out there trying to make all that chaos look organised.


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Publish date : 2019-04-28 06:42:00

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