There have been too many false dawns for this one to be above suspicion.
When, however, you are building from the basement, as Lions coach Dick Muir is doing, any minor gain or small improvement will seem like the day’s first rays of light.
Liam Del Carme writes for the Sunday Times that Muir sees his job as an opportunity to break with the Lions’ dark, under-achieving past. It is one riddled with ineptitude which cut an indiscriminate swathe from the playing surface to the boardroom.
“It’s the dawn of a new era. There have been major changes in the hierarchy and the team and this is ongoing,” said Muir.
He is not predisposed to hyperbole and he seems to grasp the gravity of his job. “Things won’t fall into place overnight. The important thing is we know where we’re heading and we can get there through hard work.
“It’s not something the team can do in isolation but it is going to require input from everybody involved in the franchise.”
Muir, who doubles up as Springbok assistant coach, and who was a Bok centre in his day, has had enough time to run the rule over available resources and personnel since he took over last year, amid the tumult of his predecessor’s dismissal.
“I’m happy with the progress we’ve made. At first I had to ascertain where we were at as a team and then make the necessary changes,” he said about his first order of business.
Among the Lions’ failures last year was their conditioning, or lack thereof.
“When you’re going into a competition as tough as the Super 14 you have to get your conditioning right. It’s not about how you start in the Super14 but how you finish. There is a lot that has to go into a campaign like this.”
Were they to transform their fitness levels, the Lions would perhaps be able to adopt the attack-minded approach new recruit Carlos Spencer, the magical former All Black flyhalf, spoke so forebodingly about in a recent interview.
In last year’s Super 14 the Lions lustily threw the ball around but after Eugene Eloff vacated his position they adopted a more pragmatic approach in the Currie Cup.
Muir put up the shutters when asked about the brand of rugby he aims for the Lions to play.
“You have to be flexible. It will be determined by conditioning, the opposition and the personnel at my disposal.”
He knows whatever style he adopts it somehow has to help him engender a winning culture that has eluded the Lions for so long, while restoring the kind of pride in the jersey which had clearly escaped the team’s most recent departees.
Eighthman Willem Alberts and utility back Louis Ludik have been training with the Sharks but the Lions insist the clearance certificates required to formalise their transfer to Durban have not been issued.
The affair looks set to drag on as long as last year’s tug-of-war between the Lions and the Stormers for the services of Jaque Fourie.
Muir believes he has to soldier on and select players “who want to play for the Lions”.
With the Lions perpetually in a building phase due to their inability to retain senior players, Muir has to make do with a squad short on experience.
They have some new recruits and to that end Muir had to set time aside for the players to get to know each other.
“We had a wonderful teambuilding session in Dullstroom last week. The object was to identify our common goals, to integrate the group and establish a leadership core.”
How far the Lions have advanced under Muir will be partly revealed when they play a pre-season friendly against the Bulls on Saturday in Polokwane. Their first game in the Super 14 is at home against the Stormers with injured scrumhalf Jano Vermaak unlikely to recover in time. But the prognosis on injured new recruit Tonderai Chavhanga is far rosier.
While Muir is loath to reveal the team’s goal for this year it is his aim to win the competition by his third year in charge.
“It’s not just about winning but winning in the long run,” he said, although it is going to require a lot more to persuade Lions fans – who have good reason to be a disbelieving lot.Tweet