Lions vs Rebels: Five things we learned

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Rebels let a 33-5 lead slip in Johannesburg on Sunday morning.

What are we talking about after that?

1. Rebels need to stamp authority

This was an absolutely golden opportunity for the Rebels to finally shed their South African duck but ultimately they gave it away.

They proved they have the arsenal to go toe-to-toe with the Lions, who have made the past three Super Rugby finals, but three tries in 10 minutes slashed a 26-point advantage to just seven.

Close games are already shaping as a regularity for the Rebels in 2019 - their three previous wins came in single-figure margins - and when the room for error is so small losses are almost inevitable.

Whether it be giving up an early lead like they did against the Brumbies or having early leads run down like they did against the Lions and very nearly against the Highlanders, the Rebels need to minimise the ebbs and flows.

If they can maintain control for longer, it will only mean good things for their win-loss record and their fans’ fingernails.

2. Jones proves the ultimate workhorse

Luke Jones isn’t flashy but the Rebels forward makes it through a mountain of work every game.

Jones made 23 tackles for the Rebels as they were peppered by the Lions in the second half and his contribution was a very handy one for Melbourne.

The Rebels backline often gets all the hype but the work of players like Jones and co will lay the platform for their superstar attack to get going.

A shift to blindisde flanker certainly paid off and will give Wallabies coach Michael Cheika plenty of food for thought in a troublesome position for Australia.

3. Discipline concerns still cast shadow

There was definitely a sense in Johannesburg that the Rebels were being more closely examined than the Lions and a 20-1 penalty count proved part of their downfall on Sunday morning.

Rebels coach Dave Wessels couldn’t recall seeing a stat line like it in his career and he wouldn’t be alone.

Discipline, though, is an area the Rebels pinpointed at the start of the year as one they needed to work on but after four matches, they are the equal most yellow-carded side and third in Super Rugby when it comes to penalties conceded.

Two yellow cards hurt them especially with the Lions notching three tries when Billy Meakes was in the bin and that spelled the end of their chances of a drought-breaking win.

Regardless of the situation, limiting penalties has to be on the agenda as they head to Durban.

4. Rangi adds to form hookers list

The Wallabies starting hooker spot is still surely very much up for grabs ahead of the World Cup and there are a few sticking their hands up. 

The Brumbies’ Folau Faingaa, who was in and out of the Test fold last year, has been staking a claim and Rebels hooker Anaru Rangi again showed his strong form line in Johannesburg.

Rangi hasn’t been part of any Wallabies camp this year but Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has rewarded strong Super Rugby form in the past.

Whatever his Test fate is, Rangi is at the very least giving selectors plenty to think about.

Tatafu Polota-Nau doesn't have the same dynamic impact as he once had but his scrum presence is still noticeable.

5. Lions threat still looms

The Lions had a slow start to the season but they showed on Sunday morning that they are still a force to be reckoned with.

They have weathered the Jaguares' storm and clawed the Rebels back in the past two weeks, keeping the South African conference a fascinating equation.

The Bulls, Lions and Stormers are all now on three wins after five rounds and the battle for finals spots is shaping up as incredibly tight already.

The Jaguares and Sharks sit below that trio but still have two wins from the first five rounds. Who will prevail? Anyone's guess.