The Lions, Super Rugby runners-ups in 2016, 2017 and 2018, are going through a clear rebuilding phase in 2020 under the new leadership of coach Ivan van Rooyen.
That is no excuse, however, for the poor results that the franchise has experienced so far this season according to Van Rooyen as well as captain Elton Jantjies.
The Lions’ latest disappointment came in Melbourne on Saturday with a 37-17 loss to the Rebels. It was the Lions’ third straight loss of the season and they are now massive outsiders to make a run at the playoffs with just one win from five.
As has been the case all season, there were certainly moments of encouragement for the Lions with ball in hand, but unforced errors when in possession as well as inconsistencies in defence ultimately hurt them.
Speaking after the match, Van Rooyen acknowledged that his side had been outplayed by a better side on the day.
“I think they were physical for 80 minutes and probably out-rucked us, especially when we attacked. They’re a good, polished team, they’re playing with high spirits and they’re a real threat,” he said.
“We made steps forward in certain areas and in others maybe not so much, so for us it’s an opportunity tomorrow and on Monday to really have a good look at the game and reassess where we are currently and then get ready for the Blues.”
When asked if stepping into the head coaching position was tougher than he had initially expected, Van Rooyen said he knew what he was in for and would not make any excuses despite the inexperienced nature of his side.
“I was part of the last eight years at the Lions so I was under no illusions,” he said.
“Yes, it’s a building phase currently with guys who have played one, two or three Super Rugby games. It’s still not an excuse or a reason for poor performance.
“We’ll always challenge the players to reset, and it’s the same for me. There’s an opportunity for us to get better quickly and adapt to this competition.”
Bok playmaker Jantjies was far less forgiving.
“I never want to talk about rebuilding phases. It’s easy to fall under that as an excuse,” he said.
“It’s a man’s game … it’s not for kids. Like the coach said, we’re going to have to learn from this and move on as quick as possible.
“This is Test rugby, this is not a normal provincial competition. You’re playing against quality players every week and you have to get your mind and body ready and obviously the plans.
“We’re going to have to grow up quickly and realise this is a brutal competition.”
The Lions move to the New Zealand leg of their Australasian tour next weekend when they take on the Blues on Saturday.