The 2021 B&I Lions will play their first match on their tour against the Golden Lions on Saturday. And this match brings back memories of the clash between the two sides in rather bizarre circumstances in 2009.
Boardroom logic is often difficult to understand, and very often there are factors unbeknown to the followers or even the players in a team or franchise – and this decision, taken just a week before the Golden Lions had to face the touring British and Irish Lions at Ellis Park in 2009, is a point in case.
The home side predictably lost the 2009 match by a huge margin, 74-10, conceding 10 tries and scoring only one themselves.
Not that they would have beaten the tourists in what had been one of their poorest seasons in the Super Rugby competition even if the following strange management decision had not been made. It was mainly the timing that rankled and the fact that the decision placed the new coach – and the players – in an untenable position.
Coach replaced a week before B&I Lions match
Coach Eugene (Loffie) Eloff was on the Wednesday asked to stand down as the Golden Lions coach with immediate effect for the match against the touring British and Irish Lions at Ellis Park the following Wednesday.
And to further confuse the players and supporters alike, the Lions appointed the brilliant and extremely experienced coach at junior level, Hans Coetzee, to take over the reigns as interim head coach.
It was unfair on a gentleman, with oodles of experience and achievements, to make the step up from junior rugby to an international fixture and succeed, with only a week to prepare a group of players he had not worked with before.
Wimpie Vermeulen, Vodacom Cup head coach and a former assistant of Eloff and in charge of the Super 14 and Currie Cup back lines, and former Springbok flank Ian Macdonald were appointed to assist Coetzee as backline and forward coach respectively.
The decision followed an audit on the whole system and structures within the Golden Lions Rugby Union by Jake White's Winning Ways requested by the union.
Perhaps a tad over-hastily the GLRU took the decision to replace Eloff.
"It immediately became apparent that in order for the GLRU to move forward, we would have to make immediate changes to allow for a proper build-up for the British and Irish Lions versus Lions game and the 2009 Currie Cup," according to GRLU CEO Reyneke in a statement on their coaches decision that Wednesday.
He added that a meeting had been held that morning with Loffie Eloff who was asked to stand down as the senior team head coach with immediate effect and that the successful Monument Hoërskool (Monnas) coach Hans Coetzee in the interim would take over the reigns as head coach.
Reyneke, in speaking to the press, added that Coetzee was a vastly experienced coach who had been in rugby coaching for more than 20 years. During this time he coached, among others, the Monnas first team (at that stage!) for 18 years, the Lions' Craven week team for eight years as well as SA Academy and SA Schools teams.
Reyneke addressed the players later on the Wednesday morning to explain the position to them.
The late appointment of a new coach, with less than week to prepare his side, had the predictable result. The Lions, who as Transvaal was the only side outside of the tests to beat the 1968 touring side of Tom Kiernan (14-6), lost the match 2009 match under new coach Hans Coetzee 74-10, leaking ten tries and scoring only one themselves.
The home side held their own in the set phases, distributed nearly as many times as the visitors, with the defence success count about even. However, the teamwork and experience of the B&I Lions were far superior and they created gaps almost at will and far too many to defend for the home team.
B&I Lions results against Transvaal, Gauteng Lions and Golden Lions since 1891 –
1891 Won 22-0 and won 9-0
1896 Won 16-5
1903 Won 12-3 and won 14-4
1910 Lost 8-27 and lost 6-13
1924 Drawn 12-all
1938 Lost 16-9 and won 17-9
1955 Won 36-13
1962 Won 24-3
1968 lost 6-14
1974 Won 23-15
1980 Won 32-12
1997 Won 20-14 (Gauteng Lions)
2009 Won 74-10 (Golden Lions)
Played 17, drew 1, won 12, lost 4