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Standing tall


There has not been a lot of positives to report on from the Lions Rugby Union in recent months, but you have to respect how some members of the union are fronting up.

The Lions came off another disappointing loss at Newlands in a dour, scrappy affair.  Much of this was due to Mark Lawrence in my view through poor game management and a free-for-all at the rucks.  The fact that every ruck or tackled situation was blown differently left the players hugely frustrated and this frustration contributed to the stop-start affair we saw on the night with at least 3 very strange calls resulting in points at the other end of the park.

Lawrence’s poor performance apart, the Lions came out to play and prove something on the night.  As if the Super Rugby participation debacle hanging over their head is not enough, it emerged that there were some real problems with the management setup with their coach, John Mitchell, suspended for matter yet unknown, but obviously serious enough to justify such an extreme action.

The Lions came to Newlands effectively coach-less with Johan Ackermann (forwards coach) taking over the role in an interim capacity with Carlos Spencer (backline coach) assisting him.

It is obvious that there are problems at the union, problems that run much deeper than bad performances on the park, and usually when this happens those responsible or in a position to change it, runs for the hills – well not at the Lions it seems.

Following every match the media is invited to attend a post-match press-conference where you normally get the coach and captain of the team fielding questions from the guys bringing you stories in all the newspapers and websites.  The usual questions are asked, the usual clichés dished out and more often than not, the usual boring old stories on all the websites and newspapers are the result.

On Saturday night however the media contingent was rather surprised when Josh Strauss entered the room with none other than Lions Rugby Union President, Kevin de Klerk.

No, there was not a lot revealed on the ongoing Super Rugby circus with De Klerk basically saying they are waiting like everyone else to see what solution SA Rugby comes up with on the 13th of July.  Neither was there anything revealing in the John Mitchell saga as De Klerk rightly pointed out that it is a legal matter and they have to follow protocols our country’s labour laws dictate.

But it did say a hell of a lot on the character of the man trying to lead the Lions out of this ugly mess when he, and not his temporary coach or captain alone could easily been thrown to the unforgiving wolves in the media who are mostly about bringing their readers the dirty bits to sell newspapers or advertising.

It could have been easy for De Klerk to stay in Johannesburg and watch this match unfold from the comfort of his couch where Josh and Johan Ackermann would have had to field what is no doubt very uncomfortable post-match questions.  Yet, he got on a plane with his team, braved a bitterly cold Cape Town night and stood tall in a situation he no doubt knew would question the very fiber and character of his union and his players.

De Klerk is under no illusions, neither is he blind to the challenges he and his team face in the next couple of weeks.  He is also not one for excuses as was evident in the press conference, and in a time when the Lions arguably face their most difficult task or challenge in the union’s history, he is standing tall and fighting.

Whether the Lions manage to hold onto Super Rugby status in 2013, or whether they manage to resolve the Mitchell issue with as little fuss as possible, it was refreshing to see the man ultimately responsible for the organisation standing up, and standing tall – taking the punches as they are thrown.

Where it has become the norm for CEO’s, presidents and administrators of rugby unions to hide behind their big oak desks and an army of assistants or spin-doctors, Kevin de Klerk fronting up for his organisation, team and players should give the Lions fans some hope.

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  1. As positive as that seems, we still have no clue as to what is going on.

    It is starting to sound like one of those “soapies” my wife loves to watch, every outcome seems to drag on for months on end.

    Not wantig to get into the whole Super XV debacle of who is in ans who is out, but it is quite pathetic from SARU.

  2. De Klerk is what keeps the union going. The man gives so much to the union seven days a week – while still running his real business. No president of any rugby team in this country gives us much as this man for the union. And thát is what gives me hope for the future of the union. We are still fighting. We haven’t given up. The team will now start to perform better and better, and do not be surprised if we have another good CC. Our teams throughout the structures are doing well. We have awesome youngsters coming through. As long as De Klerk can keep standing and fighting the union will improve.

  3. Reply to Kat @ 1:55 pm:

    The question is, who is he fighting? Besides SARU for the S15 birth.

    I guess the question is, what are the real issues the union is facing?

  4. 1) Fighting for financial survival.
    2) Fighting to get good players and retain the ones we have.
    3) Fighting to keep current supporters and to gain more.
    4) Getting people to attend matches at EP.
    5) Get admin of union to function better.
    6) Get a more positive image of union to reflect in Media.
    7) Fight off those wanting to see Lions fail and sink.

    … to list a few.

  5. Money is the big problem. They need tons of it to retain talent at all levels and in all silos.

  6. The same issues affect all clubs/unions/etc but the Lions are deep down the pit and need a miracle to get the issues listed at a level where most other SupeRugby teams find themselves.

    Teams like the Lions and Free State struggle to retain their best players and the GLRU has acknowledged that they are forced to pay more to attract and retain players as Joburg “is not by the sea” and do not have the winning culture & prestige of the Bulls. The Lions can only succeed with a money advantage (which they do not have). Luyt Doctrine = pay ’em more than anyone else to play in Joburg. What do you do when the Bulls right on your doorstep has the prestige AND the money advantage? You’re in trouble … as is the case with the Lions.

    The Lions need a HUGE money injection to pay players better than the Bulls … or something must go very wrong in Pretoria for players to want to move to Joburg (like happened in the early 1990’s when players followed Kitch who was snubbed by the Bulls management).

  7. Signing Heyneke Meyer instead of Muir would have been a master stroke … but Meyer wanted his whole team employed – as with the Boks – and the Lions couldn’t afford ’em all.

  8. On the pitch,I see nothing but losing.
    As per usual .
    It’s not all coach,staff,admin, union ect.
    The coach can’t tackle for you
    or play for you.

  9. de klerk was in cape town to lobby support that’s all, he said it himselg the day he announced that mitchell’s suspension was not only driven by the players – yeah right.

    nothing about “fronting” or any such poppycock. he knows ‘feel good’ articles like this one will be written about how he is a stand-up guy etc. it’s all PR.

  10. What a mess… and SARU at the forefront of it as per normal!

    One look across the Tasman to how quickly the Highlander’s plight was sorted out an example…

  11. Whats Nick Mallet doing? He needs a job.

    Its a dam shame to see politics killing teams. South Africa should be well ahead of every one yet we wallow in mediocrity.

    Why? SARU has many useless political minded managers who always have a scapegoat and never ever really do anything out of the ordinary.

    As my old man says” boy there is more politics in rugby than rugby itself”…the demise of the Lions is shitty short sighted petty politics.

  12. Reply to Morné @ 8:38 pm: And yet we aren’t.

    We aren’t wise enough to negotiate at SANZAR level regarding the division of broadcasting revenue, we just give it away.

    We mismanage our unions, just look at the Kings and the Lions.

    Our coaching philisophies aren’t forward thinking, just look at the attitude’s of our top coaches, Coetzee sticks his head in the sand as far as the Stormer’s inability to score tries and beleives as long as they are winning it doesn’t matter.

    We stick to age old strengths and refuse to embrace any new ideas.

    Nope, pretty average thinking if you ask me.

  13. Reply to biltongbek @ 11:36 am:

    In Europe our coaches are very well regarded and the Brumbies would not have appointed our Jake if they didn’t regard him highly.

    The problem is WE do not regard OURSELVES highly enough.

    Even Bryce’s remark shows that. We have the numbers, the greatest innovations in the game of the past decade have come from us, and we have the cash.

    Yet we under-regard our abilities.

    Let me give you some examples

    1. The attacking pod = South Africa invented

    2. Reintroduction of the maul to attack = South Africa

    3. Mini Maul = South Africa invented

    4. International introduction of rush defence = South Africa

    5. Lineout as primary attacking weapon AND defensive weapon = South Africa

    6. Rigid structure = South Africa dating back to Kitch Christie days!

  14. Reply to biltongbek @ 11:36 am:

    But I agree that we have let ourselves down negotiating with SANZAR about our share of the pie.

    But our coaches and players are at the top of the cutting edge of sports science.

    The Sports Science Institute in Cape Town is regarded as the top rugby science institute in the world

  15. David yes mate, when it comes to forward play we are innovators, but then when it comes to the backs…..

  16. Reply to biltongbek @ 1:30 pm:

    but then when it comes to the backs…..
    we are utter :poop:
    And those innovative u.20 backline players
    will soon have it drilled out of them.

    PS. Where is Shields when I need support?

  17. Guys there is no innovation or creativity in any rugby anymore.

    As low as school level already there is no place for a player that “takes chances”…

    At Super level the players are like the automatons on NFL. It all looks nice and brilliant but it is more of a plan coming together than a visionary of the game unleashing brain driven creative genius on the opposition.

    There are no creative players. Not even in New Zealand.

    They are good at what they do because it is what they do from the minute they get born and some proud Kiwi daddy says “Strewth mate… chool be an All Blek one doi”

    Same as our kids get told the pinnacle of being a player is being a loose forward… leastways that is what I was taught in my pretty average Afrikaans school in the East Rand.

    The only “back line” innovations I would give anyone else would be the Australian innovations of using their back line players in attack pods but that was not innovative seeing as it just used a formula we had already created and added back line players.

    The only additional “innovation” I would credit to New Zealand (who cannot run or read a set piece move if it bites them) is creating the “innovation” of players running dummy lines… or more accurately… players obstructing defenders intentionally.

    Even the back line innovation of the last two decades have come from us.

    Let me mention our innovations.

    1. The big scrumhalf.
    2. The flyhalf who varies their depth based on the situation – Naas Botha
    3. Flat attack flyhalf – Henri Honniball (Nic Mallet)
    4. Crash ball runners – invented by Pa Pelser at the Lions with Dries Maritz in 1987
    5. Wing coming in off the back of the lineout to create an inside overlap… Dawie Snyman and Niel Burger, Christie Noble for Natal in the 1990’s and then Slaptjips Rossouw
    6. The GIANT wing = ever hear of Tom Van Vollenhoven?
    7. Gary Owen’s accurate rebirth with chasers invented by… Naas Botha
    8. Rush inside out defence

    Sorry mate

    As I said

    Us South Africans are always quick to reject our own in favour of what we perceive is good about other countries and their rugby without looking at what we have and the various brilliant innovations we have pioneered into rugby.

  18. 6. The GIANT wing = ever hear of Tom Van Vollenhoven

    Can’t put finger on his weight now, but he
    as no giant, unlike Gert Muller, Ray Mordt.
    9,7 for 100 yards though.

    “His try for the Light Blues against the Junior Springboks in 1955, when he beat one player after another in spectacular a zigzag run of almost 80 metres, is still lauded as the try of all tries.”

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