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 is a former non-tackling scrumhalf and not-quite-first-grade middle order stalwart. A rugby and cricket expert for The Roar since July 2009, Brett has written for Inside Rugby and Cricket Australia, and is also PLAY Canberra's rugby correspondent. He tweets from @BMcSport
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