IN THE DOLDRUMS
Lions’ Super Rugby playoff hopes all but dashed
The team now required to win this weekend’s clash against the Bulls to secure a spot in the quarterfinals
The Lions’ prospects of again going deep into the business end of Super Rugby hang by a thread.
Not only did the resounding 37-17 defeat at the hands of the Hurricanes slam the brakes on their passage into the knock-out stages‚ but they are likely to be without Kwagga Smith for the rest of the campaign.
Unless results elsewhere work in their favour‚ the Lions are now required to win this weekend’s clash against the Bulls to secure a spot in the quarterfinals.
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Smith was withdrawn from the action in the 26th minute of the clash against the Canes with a hamstring injury, and coach Swys de Bruin was not optimistic about their prospects of getting him back anytime soon. “That hammie went. Usually with that kind of hamstring injury you are looking at six weeks‚” said the downcast coach.
The injury is particularly untimely in the light of the continued absence of regular captain Warren Whiteley, who has already been ruled out of the rest of the campaign.
“It was a bit of déjà vu‚” said De Bruin. “In 2015 or 2016 they put 50 on us here. It’s the same team. It’s the same movie. I knew all week they are going to come at the breakdown. They were very‚ very good at the breakdown. In fact‚ they killed us there.”
It was in that area that the Lions missed Smith’s physicality but his potency out wide was also lost to the hosts for the bulk of the game.
“When he went we really had to dig deep‚” said De Bruin. “Vincent Tshituka and the youngsters stood up and fought all the way. I thought Tyrone Green was absolutely brilliant. He was prepared to put his body on the line.”
But the Lions also fell short tactically. They introduced Elton Jantjies into the action at the resumption in the belief that the Hurricanes would continue to kick for territory. They did the opposite. In the end the home side could have done with Harold Vorster’s greater rigidity in defence.
Apart from the Hurricanes showing greater commitment and clarity at the breakdown‚ the victory was a triumph for their planning and execution.
Well aware that the Hurricanes faded here in the semifinals two years ago, coach John Plumtree kept All Blacks Ardie Savea and Dane Coles back for the back end of the match.
“We had a plan around this game. A game of two halves really‚” said Plumtree. “It involved a few things around selection‚ our mindset at half time and planting the seed about how we wanted to start the game again.
“Our trainers have done a lot of work around our fitness this year. We backed ourselves we could finish strongly here. It was good to see that come off. It was part of my madness but the players bought into it.”