Lions Should Be Proud

On Saturday the Hurricanes finally won their first Super Rugby title.  The Canes had suffered final defeats before but on this occasion emerged victorious and deserve to be congratulated on a job well done.  It also completes the set for New Zealand franchises now.  Each of that country’s five sides have now won Super Rugby.  Australia has tasted success with the Brumbies, Reds and Waratahs while only South Africa’s Bulls have triumphed.  The Sharks, Stormers and now the Lions have lost in the final.

It confirms the dominance of the New Zealanders in the professional era and the emergence of Beauden Barrett as a ready-made Dan Carter replacement should ensure for some sleepless nights for rival coaches.  The Canes were great and the Lions did well to reach the final.  We should also extend congratulations to Johan Ackermann for taking what was deemed as a bunch of no-hopers to Super Rugby contenders in a relatively short period of time.  Remember they were not even in Super Rugby in 2013.  

Lions v Jaguares

Photo credit: UAR- Steve Haag

Ackermann’s men have come of age and they deserve the plaudits.  However I am not convinced by the criticism that has come their way.  Ackermann might have made a blunder by choosing to go with an under-strength side in Buenos Aires in the last round robin match against the Jaguares.  That defeat meant they finished second overall and robbed them of a possible home final.  But would the travel factor have caught up with them in the play-offs otherwise?  There is no way of knowing and the way they blew the Crusaders and Highlanders away suggested Ackermann got it right.  The final clearly was a hurdle too far.

Lions Elton Jantjies

Photo credit: Nick Lourens

What I thought was unfair was the criticism levelled at Elton Jantjies.  The flyhalf is a playmaker who has creative licence under Ackermann.  Some were blaming him for the 20-3 defeat as if his stupendous performances previously counted for nothing and he was not allowed to have a bad game.  Several other players were off their game in the final but the Wellington side were the better side on the day anyway.  My guess is the Lions will recover from this setback and be back better than ever next year.  Moreover players like Jantjies, Jaco Kriel and many others will be better players for this experience.

Sharks Tendai Beast Mtawarira Patrick Lambie Jaguares Emiliano Boffelli

Photo credit: UAR/Gaspafotos/Juan e Ignacio Gasparini

Another point that had me raising my eyebrows was that John Plumtree had somehow masterminded this Hurricanes victory and that John Smit, departing Sharks CEO, is probably regretting letting Plumtree go.  Well here are a few facts:  Plumtree was at the helm in Durban from 2008 until 2012.  Smit decided to replace Plumtree with Jake White before even arriving at Kings Park.  White led the Durban franchise to the semi-finals after winning the South African Conference.  Gary Gold has taken the team backwards.

Plumtree’s Sharks were fourth in the SA Conference in his last year in charge and third the year before that, while finishing ninth overall in the final Super 14 season.  Plumtree was not taking the team anywhere.  

You will often see how a coach might do very well at one side but not so well somewhere else.  There are several factors at play but the truth is that Plumtree was not a success in Durban and as an assistant coach he is doing well in Wellington.  However Smit, or his successor Gary Teichmann cannot possibly be thinking the Sharks should have done everything in their power to keep the Kiwi inside the borders of eThekwini while they had the chance.