In what is probably a first for professional rugby, Lions CEO Rudolf Straeuli has revealed to Netwerk24 that when the Lions named their team to face the Chiefs, absent of Springboks Malcolm Marx and Elton Jantjies, they had no intention of not starting the international duo.
“It was a tactical move to announce the team like that because we wanted the Chiefs to believe they were not going to play,” Straeuli said.
“With Malcolm on the bench, the Chiefs opted to rest some of their heavy forwards. With him in the starting team we could take them on at scrum time and it worked well. The foundation for our victory was laid up front.”
The Chiefs did field a relatively weak team with All Blacks Nathan Harris and Brodie Retallick missing. Both players’ omissions were dictated by injury, however, so the Lions gamble didn’t seem to impact the match.
The Lions won the game 23-17 but had to resist a late fightback from the Chiefs.
Missing Harris and Retallick, alongside other New Zealand representatives with longer term injuries such as Sam Cane and Kane Hames, no doubt played a part in the Chiefs loss, but it was probably livewire fullback Damian McKenzie’s injury which played a greater role in the outcome.
Still, the Lions’ tactic to mislead the Chiefs, whilst not explicitly banned, is a huge show of bad sportsmanship.
The Lions have been dealing with an array of off-field issues this season: both head coach Swys de Bruin and defence coach Joey Mongalo returned home to South Africa before the first match of the tour due to health issues and an indecent assault conviction, respectively.
Adding one of the worst cases of bad sportsmanship in Super Rugby history to the list of problems that has plagued the Lions season will not bode well with the team’s stakeholders.
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