The Lions form offers a King-sized opportunity

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    Australia's Brumbies Peter Kimlin is challenged by South Africa's Lions Elton Jantjies. AP Photo/Themba Hadebe

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    A few weeks ago, ambitious sections of the South African rugby media jumped all over comments from former Wallabies coach and World Cup-winning Springboks consultant coach Eddie Jones.

    There’s nothing new in that, I suppose. Unsurprisingly, it was relating to the ongoing dilemma the SARU have created for themselves by ‘guaranteeing’ a place in the 2013 Super Rugby competition for the Port Elizabeth-based Southern Kings.

    Rugby website Rugby365 ran a story under the headline Aussies have too many teams back in mid-April, with the basis for their story comments Jones had made to Rugby News magazine in the weeks preceding:

    “Each side has been watered down because there are too many of them, and that’s a real concern for the Wallabies, because you don’t have your best players playing with each other,” Jones told the magazine.

    The real motivation behind jumping on Jones’ unrelated comments in the South African web article came later:

    “The Kings’ participation in the 2013 competition has already been ‘guaranteed’ by SARU and even though a SARU-led delegation is due to meet with its SANZAR colleagues to discuss possible competition expansion, the possibility of increasing it to a 16-team tournament remains very unlikely.

    “This raises the possibility of an Australian team making way for the Kings’ entry next year.”

    A brief trans-global Twitter discussion with colleague Paul Cully eventuated at the time, where Paul quite rightly pointed out that Jones wasn’t actually advocating Australia should lose a team in the Rugby News article.

    I suggested “never mind that those diluted teams keep beating the Lions pretty comfortably…”

    Either way, the South Africans were all over it. Never let the facts interrupt a good story, as they say.

    Of course, it’s all a moot clutching of straws anyway, with SANZAR CEO Greg Peters once again advising there will be no change to the existing format. While in South Africa just last week, he said that it would be left up to the SARU to get themselves out of their self-excavated hole.

    “It is fine for one team to replace another and that’s what we expect will happen because only five South African teams can play,” Peters said, for the umpteenth time.

    This all leads in to the Brumbies’ humiliation of the Lions at Johannesburg on early Saturday morning.

    The Brumbies ran out comfortable bonus-point winners, 34-20, scoring six tries to two. But they left another 19 points on the field, through four missed conversions, two missed penalties and Christian Lealiifano losing the ball over the line.

    Even then I think a 53-20 score line would still have flattered the Lions.

    Regular readers would know that I generally don’t like to get bogged down in negativity, but I’m going to allow myself a leave pass here.

    There’s no way of sugar-coating this either: the Lions put in one of the worst displays of Super Rugby I can recall in recent times.

    They were, frankly, absolutely rubbish.

    Former Springbok flyhalf Joel Stransky pointed out in the commentary that though the Lions have been decimated by injuries this season, so have fourteen other teams.

    On current form the Lions might struggle to beat the Armidale Blues in northern NSW; never mind the horribly out-of-form Eden Park variety.

    The Brumbies are far from the best team in Super Rugby, and you could probably mount a decent argument that they’re not even the best Australian team in Super Rugby. But the number of inexcusable basic skill errors that the Lions allowed themselves to commit was just atrocious.

    Tian Meyer and Elton Jantjies do have a reasonable nine-ten combination, but there’s precious little beyond them. Once Meyer went off, so too did anything closely resembling crisp service from the ruck.

    Replacement scrumhalf Ross Cronje possesses a passing game that makes Luke Burgess’ look bullet-like.

    The height of the Lions failings came late in the game, when serial offender Butch James charged shoulder-first into a ruck and, more significantly, into Brumbies lock Scott Fardy’s head and neck.

    What was about to be a Lions penalty on the Brumbies line quickly became a Brumbies penalty, with yellow and white cards to boot.

    As expected James was cited for foul play, with the Citing Commissioner deeming that “in his opinion the incident had met the red-card threshold for foul play”.

    He subsequently accepted the prescribed four-week ban. He should count himself lucky he didn’t have a month added for sheer stupidity.

    With the Lions yet to tour Australia and New Zealand, and with more hidings likely, it will be interesting to see if the SARU do follow through on their promise to promote the politically motivated Southern Kings franchise ahead of the Lions.

    On the surface it’s hard to say we’d miss the Lions, but it’s still hard to see the biggest population centre in South Africa no longer represented in the Super Rugby competition, especially one with such a rich history in the Currie Cup.

    That said, South Africa got themselves into this mess, so they can get themselves out of it. And if that means the Lions make way after the weekend’s display, then so be it.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (104)

    • May 1st 2012 @ 3:17am
      Mella said | May 1st 2012 @ 3:17am | ! Report

      You touch on the reason this would be a strange decision. Jo’burg is the business center of S. Africa and the whole of Africa, biggest population, biggest most famous rugby stadium. Its like an Australian conference without a team based in Sydney, NZ without Auckland. How can a team get shafted cause it happens to have a bad year in 2012, its all swings and roundabouts. I say have a sixteenth team, get rid of the silly 3 team and then 1 team byes every weekend which totally mess up the incomprehensible super rugby table, and put an end to bagging Aus for having the weakest conference all in one foul swoop!

      • May 1st 2012 @ 6:37am
        kiwidave said | May 1st 2012 @ 6:37am | ! Report

        Biggest and emptiest rugby stadium in recent times, comparisons with the Blues go on.

        To some extent i agree with your logic (and I’m not a fan of the conference system) but it’s not as if the Lions just happened to have a bad year in 2012 is it? They’ve had a bad year almost every year, 13 of the last 16 have been near the foot of the table.
        In fact, tellingly, the only seasons in which they made the playoffs were when they were combined with the Cheetahs.
        I would be surprised if the kings were stronger than the Lions though.

      • May 1st 2012 @ 7:59am
        sheek said | May 1st 2012 @ 7:59am | ! Report

        Mella,

        Your reply goes to the heart of the matter – “Jo’burg is the business centre in South Africa, and the whole of Africa, biggest population, biggest most famous rugby stadium”.

        A better Australian example would be asking the Victorian Sheffield Shield cricket team, & it’s mighty & famous MCG, to stand aside for a team from the Gold Coast, because Australian cricket should be represented by more surfies, beachies & alternate life-stylers.

        If the Lions from Jo’burg are shafted for the Kings from Port Elizabeth, it will be one of the greatest brain-dead decisions I’ve ever witnessed anywhere. And I thought our current federal government was the epiphany of dumb……….

        • May 1st 2012 @ 10:16am
          WQ said | May 1st 2012 @ 10:16am | ! Report

          sheek,
          Interestingly enough I agree with you!
          Other than the part about “biggest most famous rugby stadium”

        • May 1st 2012 @ 8:15pm
          anopinion said | May 1st 2012 @ 8:15pm | ! Report

          Sheek,
          Did you mean “epitome of dumb”?

      • Columnist

        May 1st 2012 @ 12:51pm
        Brett McKay said | May 1st 2012 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

        Mella, the Sydney/Auckland link didn’t survive the final self-edit, but was made along the same lines you’ve done here. It really would seem weird not having Jo’burg on the Super Rugby calendar, but if that’s the way the SARU want to play this…

    • May 1st 2012 @ 3:46am
      kingplaymaker said | May 1st 2012 @ 3:46am | ! Report

      Too right, whenever the Australia conference is bashed it is always in comparison to the New Zealand conference, forgetting that the South African conference is nothing to ride home about at the moment.

      Much is written about the ineffectiveness of the ARU and NZRU, but little about the equally misfiring SARU. By allowing the Bulls and Stormers to hog all the best players in South Africa, many of whom they don’t use, they are responsible for the weakness of the Lions. This is a problem in Australia too but to a slightly lesser degree. The majority of South African rugby players are drawn from 9.6 percent of the population, so they are obviously not much good at spreading the game to all, while if they can get crowds of 40,000 for some teams then there must be many areas that could provide a steady 15,000 plus crowd.

      Eddie Jones is too negative about the Australian conference. It will take time, but there should be a better distribution of players and the game should grow in the end. Besides, how he thinks rugby would survive against the NRL and AFL with fewer rather than more teams is anyone’s guess-the kind of thoughtless approach to a competitive market that led to the bizarre creation of the Super rugby tournament in the first place.

      Jake White’s success actually highlights how Australia could strengthen its conference. A player like Kudriani was taken from the Reds academy where he had been doing nothing for two years, while Joe Tomane is the kind of player who should never have been lost to rugby in the first place. A better spread of the talent from QLD and NSW to the provinces at an earlier stage would maximise its use and lead to a strong conference that in its turn would accelerate the growth of the code in the new states-i.e. don’t led NSW and QLD hog all the talent, especially not that which they lose or don’t use.

      • May 1st 2012 @ 5:22am
        mania said | May 1st 2012 @ 5:22am | ! Report

        KPM – thats because 2 SA teams are in the top 3, Stormers 2nd, Bulls 3rd. Next aus on the ladder is brumbies @ 6th. ignore the blues @15th (as your comparing aus and sa) then 14th is lions, but down there is Force on 13th and Rebels 12th. to say SARU is misfiring with them taking the 2nd and 3rd spots on the table is a bit one eyed. sure SARU may be using the same spoiling tactics as aus franchises but at least they have 2 strong teams.

        • May 1st 2012 @ 9:04am
          kingplaymaker said | May 1st 2012 @ 9:04am | ! Report

          mania I think the Reds injury problems are unusual though and they would be near the top otherwise, while the Rebels are terribly coached and the Force not coached at all. With things in better order the Australian teams I think would look better too.

          That’s not the point I’m making though. SA has no competition from the NRL, only uses 9.6% of the population to produce most of its players leaving the other 91.4% undeveloped, despite a potentially huge market only develops some of it, allows one or two teams to hoard all the players, and generally doesn’t make much of big potential.

          • May 1st 2012 @ 9:37am
            mania said | May 1st 2012 @ 9:37am | ! Report

            kpm – i dont think the reds problems are unusual. its injuries, happens to every team every season. comes down to player depth and all of aus teams are suffering this.
            the point your making is the same issue i see with aus. under developed population. we’ve argued this and we’re polarised at different extremes. i believe ARU should be driving to create a grass roots system starting with introducing rugby to all public schools.
            aus’ plight with the NRL and AFL is a shadow of what saffa’s have to put up with. the thing keeping the boks from being the worlds best are the saffa’s themselves. as long as they keep having political interference (national and local) and parochial provinctialism they’ll never really have a team thats representitive of the entire rainbow nation. fear the day when they do because that is when the rugby landscape will change and be revolutionised.
            you over simplify the problems that SA has to put up with. kind of an insult really but i’m not offended as i’m a kiwi.

            • May 1st 2012 @ 9:46am
              kingplaymaker said | May 1st 2012 @ 9:46am | ! Report

              ‘i believe ARU should be driving to create a grass roots system starting with introducing rugby to all public schools.’ Spot-on. I’ve planned to write an article on this for a while but it takes a long time to write articles especially on massive subjects like that so I normally don’t get round to it.

              See my remark lower down the page on the New Zealand partial draft system too as that would also help Australia and South Africa to boot.

              • May 1st 2012 @ 9:52am
                mania said | May 1st 2012 @ 9:52am | ! Report

                wow KPM something we agree on! would love to see that article.
                yes saw that comment and again was surprised. i agree i think NZ has the best super model. but it wouldnt work if you had private owners…dig dig

              • May 1st 2012 @ 9:57am
                kingplaymaker said | May 1st 2012 @ 9:57am | ! Report

                mania funnily enough the chairman of the Rebels board Harold Mitchell who is the main investor adovacted a draft to even things up. Private owners need not stop the draft. One point by the way is that not all teams need to be privately owned, but some of them can be. Maybe this will soon happen in New Zealand!

              • May 1st 2012 @ 10:02am
                mania said | May 1st 2012 @ 10:02am | ! Report

                “not all teams need to be privately owned, but some of them can be. Maybe this will soon happen in New Zealand!”
                KPM- we’ll have to wait and see but i hope not and if we do i hope aus does it first just to high light any hidden hurdles along the way. NZ doesnt need private owners at this stage, maybe one day but not at the mo

          • May 1st 2012 @ 8:24pm
            anopinion said | May 1st 2012 @ 8:24pm | ! Report

            Kingplaymaker,

            You say SA, “only uses 9.6% of the population”. Australia have about 100 thousand rugby players and a population of approx 20 million. That is half a percent.

      • Columnist

        May 1st 2012 @ 1:33pm
        Brett McKay said | May 1st 2012 @ 1:33pm | ! Report

        KPM, I think that’s what the nationalisation of the Australian academies does to a degree. Now instead of states putting their talented kids in thier own program, they all go into a national pool, from which all the SR teams can draw from. A draw obviously takes this a bit further.

        Also, just on your population number there, you do have to remember that half of the total population can’t be used, just on gender grounds. So your “other 91.4% undeveloped” is probably more like 40.4%. Which is still a large number, obviously..

        • May 1st 2012 @ 8:33pm
          anopinion said | May 1st 2012 @ 8:33pm | ! Report

          Rather than a draft, perhaps we could hope that The Rebels, Force and Brumbies develop their own players. Then these players can go into the free market and end up at any Super Team as happens now.

          Who really believes the Reds are “hogging players”? The have about 35 on their books, same as other teams, this is a tiny fraction of the kids produced in Qld who play rugby.

          I bet more kids who played school rep rugby last year in Qld are with RL clubs than out of state Super Clubs.

          • May 1st 2012 @ 10:00pm
            Justin said | May 1st 2012 @ 10:00pm | ! Report

            They do need to develop more but the Brumbies have done it in the past well with Roff, Larkham etc and Lilo, Johannsen, Taps and Digy are all Melbourne boys so they have done and are doing it.

    • May 1st 2012 @ 5:14am
      mania said | May 1st 2012 @ 5:14am | ! Report

      i like butch james. he’s a hard a55 defender and attacks the line alot. rare in a bok 1st 5. he has a lot of experience and has played at top level rugby for so long with good all round skills. tempoerament for the big games. so why is he so stupid sometimes? getting a red card? again butch? sheesh.
      it doesnt say much for the level of the currieCup that the lions are getting a hiding week in week out. the kings cant even make the currieCup and last they played the lions they got a hiding.

    • May 1st 2012 @ 6:29am
      kiwidave said | May 1st 2012 @ 6:29am | ! Report

      On current form the Lions might struggle to beat the Armidale Blues in northern NSW; never mind the horribly out-of-form Eden Park variety.

      Let’s not jinx anything Brett, this theory will be put to the test shortly.

      • Columnist

        May 1st 2012 @ 1:37pm
        Brett McKay said | May 1st 2012 @ 1:37pm | ! Report

        KiwiDave, I’ll have you know the Armidale Blues are undefeated in 2012 – they beat UNE Barbarians 23-18 in round 1 of the New England comp on Saturday!!

        • May 1st 2012 @ 4:29pm
          kiwidave said | May 1st 2012 @ 4:29pm | ! Report

          Actually Brett I was mainly worried about super rugby’s Blues proving you wrong by losing to the Lions on May the 11th.
          If ony my Blues were doing as well as Armidale…

          • Columnist

            May 1st 2012 @ 4:33pm
            Brett McKay said | May 1st 2012 @ 4:33pm | ! Report

            that’s exactly the point Dave – both Blues have won one game! 😉

            (for your amusement, I had a moment of panic not long before submitting this, when I had the thought that the Lions one win earlier in the year was actually against the Blues! I was relieved to see the 11 May date…)

    • May 1st 2012 @ 6:48am
      p.Tah said | May 1st 2012 @ 6:48am | ! Report

      This whole situation is farcical. I understand the political motivation for having a team in PE but it is incomprehensible to take a team out of Jo’burg. SARU’s attempt to force SANZARs hand was amateurish. The conference system is imperative to the growth of the competition. It may not be perfect now but to dismantle it after one season would be foolish.
      PE should be in the Super rugby competition but in 2015. They are not even in the top of the domestic competition at the moment. They should use the next 3 years to really develop their systems and strengthen their club so when they enter they are competitive. To do otherwise will be deterimental to the sport in the area. The people of PE don’t want a team that will be smashed every week. For the sake of the area, give them some time.

      • May 1st 2012 @ 1:09pm
        steve.h said | May 1st 2012 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

        Yip but we are talking about the government who denied HIV lead to AIDS for 15 years costing millions of people their lives. There is not much foresight in the ANC and their political puppets in SARU. PE as a city is either the same size or bigger than Auckland, with a population that supports rugby across every demographic. They should have a team however, as you stated, only in 2015!!!

    • May 1st 2012 @ 7:19am
      katzilla said | May 1st 2012 @ 7:19am | ! Report

      It’s all a Mummer’s farce.
      The Kings have about as much chance of getting in before the next broadcasting deal as Yorick does of returning to a full time Jesters role in Hamlets court.
      Alas poor Kings, I knew them; Haratio.

      • May 1st 2012 @ 9:22am
        Tissot Time said | May 1st 2012 @ 9:22am | ! Report

        Yes tis a fair thought to lie between a maiden’s legs…

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