The 2012 Super Rugby campaign it’s safe to say has not been the great adventure that we expected from the Lions. As we head into Round 8, the Johannesburg outfit can be found propping up the table with one win from their first six matches this season.
Following a first Currie Cup success in 12 years last summer, this Super Rugby season was meant to a break in form for the Lions where after several years of mediocrity and one fierce name upgrade (who was ever going to be intimidated by the Cats?), they began to take the competition by storm with their open, attractive running game and exciting young talent in the shape of Elton Jantjies, Jaco Taute and captain Joshua Strauss.
Yet here we are in April, with the story appearing the same. Except that this time round the Lions downfall cannot purely be blamed on poor performances, but an obscene injury list. Wasps fans will be able to entirely relate when the list of casualties in John Mitchell’s squad is examined more closely. The Lions have already used 33 different players so far this season, significantly more than the other South African franchises, which in turn has created an inconsistent environment where new combinations continue to be tested out each week.
To date, Doppies la Grange (elbow), Waylon Murray (knee), prop JC Janse van Rensburg (toe), prop CJ van der Linde (groin), utility forward Wikus van Heerden (concussion), loose forwards Michael Rhodes (knee) and Warren Whiteley, utility back Dylan Des Fountain (knee) and hooker Bandise Maku (shoulder) have all spent time on the sidelines. Paul Willemse, the young 19 year old lock who only made his impressive debut last weekend against the Cheetahs, is now also out for a couple of weeks due to a shoulder injury. Scrum-half Michael Bondesio is also another new addition to the treatment room, for the second time this season.
When you consider the quality of those listed above, including World Cup winners such as Van der Linde and Van Heerden and exciting young talent like Rhodes and Willemse, the Lions predicament comes as no surprise. The knock-on effect of losing so many names to injury has meant that the established stars, particularly young Jantjies at 10, have not replicated the form that won the Lions so many plaudits during the Currie Cup.
But, there is hope. Captain Joshua Strauss has managed to shake off a back injury that caused him to withdraw from last weekend’s defeat against the Cheetahs. Plus, van der Linde is back on the bench after recovering from the groin injury that has kept him out since March 2nd. They will need both hardmen more than ever against an unforgiving Bulls pack on Saturday afternoon, but a good performance, not necessarily a result, could force the tide to start turning. If the Lions luck doesn’t change soon though, it will be another long season.
by Ben Coles