Rudolph Jacobs
Rugby Journalist
2 minute read
7 Mar 2020
12:01 pm

Toothless Lions suffer first defeat ever to Rebels

Rudolph Jacobs

Cash van Rooyen's charges look all over the show as the spectre of a long and damaging overseas tour now looms large.

Lions player Marnus Schoeman (R) is tackled by Rebels player Angus Cottrell (L) during the Super Rugby match between Australia's Rebels and South Africa's Lions in Melbourne on March 7, 2020. (Photo by William WEST / AFP) / -- IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE --

It has gone from bad to worse for the Lions as slow starts and soft moments on defence continued to haunt them in Melbourne on Saturday, outclassed 37-17 by the Rebels.

Cash van Rooyen’s troops are now a team in real trouble as this is their third straight loss and fourth in five games, leaving languishing in 13th position on the overall log.

It’s also the first time Lions tasted defeat against the Rebels ever following a five-match winning streak.

The Rebels, who outscored the Lions by five tries to two, went into an early lead of 15-0 and despite the visitors fighting back to reduce the deficit to 15-10 at the break, it was another soft try by the Rebels, three minutes into the second 40, which steered them to a decisive lead.

And, as has become apparent, the Lions don’t play catch-up rugby very well.

Who was the star in this match?

Rebels flyhalf Matt Toomua showed why he has played so much Test rugby for the Wallabies. His cool head allowed him to make the right calls. He brought his backline into play with some sound decision-making while spotting the spaces behind the Lions defence to keep them pinned back into their own half.

Key moments and themes

  • Poor awareness on the defence haunted the Lions from the outset and saw the Rebels score two runaway tries by wing Andrew Kellaway and flank Richard Hardwick, allowing the hosts a comfortable 15-0 lead. While their one-on-one tackling was hardly great, the bigger concern was their defensive organisation. Spacing is a major problem.
  • The killer blow came early in the second half, when flanker Marnus Schoeman was penalised for not rolling away. The Rebels made sure of territory and then delivered quick ball, with some excellent passing by the forwards, for No 8 Isa Naisarani to score. Frustratingly, the hosts were playing with 14 men after centre Tom English killed the ball a few minutes earlier from an attacking Lions breakdown.
  • Yet it wasn’t just on the back foot that the Lions struggled. Their first try for wing Jamba Ulengo was well worked from a solid rolling maul, but they simply had no continuity on attack, undermined by poor handling and a failure to release the ball quickly enough at an admittedly chaotic breakdown.
  • Despite their reputation for being an accomplished attacking side, the Lions’ success was always built on a solid set-piece. That strength has flow out of the window. They lost no less than four lineouts and had some engagement issues at the scrum too.

Point scorers:

Rebels – Tries: Andrew Kellaway (2), Richard Hardwick, Isa Naisarani, Dane Haylett-Petty. Conversions: Matt Toomua (3). Penalties: Toomua (2).

Lions – Try: Jamba Ulengo, Sti Sithole. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalty: Jantjies.

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