Philip Lemmer (Gallo Images)
- Lions assistant coach Philip Lemmer has shrugged off criticism aimed at the quality of rugby in the domestic campaign and isn’t too preoccupied with even engaging in the debate.
- The 37-year-old argues that rugby is a “difficult profession” to operate in and that most of the negative sentiment isn’t even justified.
- Instead, he says all franchises are doing their best to deal with the unique challenges of the current period and should keep on focusing on what they’re doing well and what they believe in.
Philip Lemmer, the Lions’ collisions and rucks coach, is a man with an affinity for philosophy, previously revealing that he enjoys accompanying his training sessions with specific themes for a specific week.
It explains why the 37-year-old, almost refreshingly, doesn’t even bother engaging in the ongoing debate over the standard of South Africa’s domestic product this season.
The issue came to the fore almost a fortnight ago, when several pundits questioned whether the local game was going in the right direction after Super Rugby Unlocked and Currie Cup campaigns that are perceived not to have captured the imagination.
Several coaches “on the ground” as well as national director of rugby, Rassie Erasmus, have subsequently defended the rugby conjured up by the franchises on the basis of a highly disruptive environment they currently operate in due to Covid-19.
“I genuinely believe you shouldn’t waste much time worrying about criticism of that nature. It usually comes from people who don’t want the sun to shine,” Lemmer said as the Lions ramp up their preparations for Saturday’s Currie Cup semifinal against the Bulls at Loftus.
“Rugby is a difficult space to operate in in that regard, it’s a profession where some people want things to go badly for your team or the sport in general. They just want to focus on the negatives and not acknowledge the good things that have been done.”
For one thing, the domestic programme has allowed the Lions to put a suspended Super Rugby campaign, where they lost five out of six before the Covid-enforced shutdown, behind them and re-focus, eventually finding momentum that would see them win five on the trot in the Currie Cup and streaking into the playoffs.
While other teams haven’t necessarily made those strides, all of them tried their best to cope with the unique challenges thrown at them.
“Every team makes mistakes, but every team also conjures up some really great things too,” said Lemmer.
“We, as a group of franchises, need to choose to whom and what we listen to and what they don’t.
“Here at the Lions, we’re just focusing on what we’re doing well and what we need to do. Criticism is all around the world. You hold on to some words, ignore others.
“We, as a union, must just believe in what we’re doing, keep our feet firmly on the ground in the process and aim for the same direction. Then we’ll be fine. I’m sure that’s what the other teams will be doing too.
“Some things are simply misunderstood and what people think about it is out of our control.”
Meanwhile, Lemmer is wary of labelling this weekend’s playoff as a re-match of sorts – the Lions lost their final round robin match 15-22 to the Bulls – as that might be a distracting way of viewing the challenge.
“It’s a big game, we know what’s at stake. We reached the final last year and fell over the last hurdle against the Cheetahs. But it’s not a re-match for us because that implies it’s personal.
“It’s simply a semifinal that we desperately want to win. It’s a once-off,” he said.
“We know that against any of the other top five teams in this competition, if you aren’t at your best, you’re going to falter. Every facet, every passage from one whistle to the next is something you’re going to have to control if you want to win.
“Every scrum is going to be war, every lineout will be accompanied by a drive and will be contested by both sides. It’s going to be about believing and expending every bit of energy just on that field of play.
“I believe we’ve been preparing as well as we can. It’s going to be a great occasion.”
Kick-off at Loftus is at 14:00.