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.