Will Jaguares stop Lions be­ing the cat’s whiskers?

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

WILL Jo­han Ack­er­mann rue send­ing a weak­ened side to Buenos Aires for the sec­ond year in a row?

That is the big ques­tion South African rugby fans are start­ing to ask as it looks in­creas­ingly likely the Lions’ loss to the Jaguares in Ar­gentina’s cap­i­tal could again cost them top spot on the over­all log – as it did last sea­son. Let’s re­cap. A year ago, Ack­er­mann sent what equated to a ‘B-team’ to Buenos Aires to face the Jaguares in their fi­nal reg­u­lar sea­son match, know­ing they had al­ready wrapped up the con­fer­ence and would play at home in the quar­ters and semis.

A win would have seen them top the over­all log and also se­cure a home fi­nal.

The Lions lost (34-22), gift­ing top spot to the Hur­ri­canes, and while Ack­er­mann’s men beat the Cru­saders and High­landers hand­somely in the quar­ters and semis at El­lis Park, they had to travel to Welling­ton, New Zealand, to face the Canes in the fi­nal.

They lost that game 20-3 in atro­cious weather.

While no-one can say what might have hap­pened had the Lions faced the Canes at home, many would say that con­sid­er­ing the form they were in, and with the home crowd be­hind them on a dry day, they would have stood a very good chance of go­ing all the way.

Now, this sea­son, the Lions again gam­bled – and lost – by send­ing a weak­ened side to face the Jaguares.

They were beaten 36-24 in Round 3 – their only de­feat so far – and it looks in­creas­ingly likely it will mean they will again miss out on top spot and po­ten­tially have to travel to New Zealand to try win the ti­tle.

With a game to go for both the sec­ond-placed Lions and the top­placed Cru­saders, only two points sep­a­rate them – 63 points to 61.

For the Lions to fin­ish first and face the Sharks in the quar­ters at El­lis Park – and re­main at home through to the fi­nal, should they keep on win­ning – they would have to win their fi­nal reg­u­lar sea­son match against the Sharks in Dur­ban next week­end, and the Cru­saders would have to lose to the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons, the Hur­ri­canes, in Welling­ton.

Now that is a real pos­si­bil­ity, con­sid­er­ing how shat­tered many of the play­ers from the Cru­saders and Hur­ri­canes will be af­ter the series against the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions, but it’s not a given, es­pe­cially when you fac­tor in the fact the Cru­saders haven’t lost at all this sea­son. They’ll be favourites in Welling­ton.

Of course, even if the Lions fin­ished sec­ond and the Cru­saders first, there would also be the chance of the Cru­saders los­ing in the quar­ters (as it stands right now, against the Sharks) or the semis (at this stage pos­si­bly the Hur­ri­canes or Brumbies).

A sec­ond place fin­ish for the Lions would pit them against the High­landers in the quar­ters – with an out­side pos­si­bil­ity of fac­ing the Sharks, too – and then against the Storm­ers (as Africa 1 win­ners) or the Chiefs in the semis – games they will be­lieve they can win. But then it would be that trek to Christchurch to face the Cru­saders.

It could all turn out very dif­fer­ently though. But one’s got to won­der how the Lions are again feel­ing about send­ing that weak­ened team to Buenos Aires – and los­ing, as they did a year ago.

It could cost them big-time again, and it will be hugely dis­ap­point­ing if it does con­sid­er­ing the Lions have been an even more lethal side this sea­son than last year, ad­mit­tedly, hav­ing not played against any New Zealand sides yet.

Af­ter the reg­u­lar sea­son last year (15 games), the Lions had won 11 matches; this year they’ve al­ready won 13 with one to go; last year they scored 71 tries and bagged 52 points; this year they’ve scored 78 tries and bagged 61 points al­ready, with a game to go.

Will the Jaguares, of all teams – and the de­ci­sion to face them with a weak­ened side, for the sec­ond year in a row – po­ten­tially cost the Lions a Su­per Rugby ti­tle, again?

Let’s hope not.

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