Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Mitchell sympathises with Lam's plight

Lions coach John Mitchell has sympathised with Pat Lam over his team's injury-stricken season. Photo / Getty Images.
Lions coach John Mitchell has sympathised with Pat Lam over his team's injury-stricken season. Photo / Getty Images.

Lions coach John Mitchell has sympathised with Pat Lam over his team's injury-stricken season which has contributed to an avalanche of defeats and, effectively, the loss of his job.

The Blues yesterday announced Lam's job for next season will be advertised following a shocking run of results in which his side has picked up just one win.

Mitchell, safe in his job - for now - alongside fellow former All Black Carlos Spencer, can certainly identify with Lam. He also has just one victory to his credit this season, his side sitting just one place up from the Blues in 14th, and has also had injury problems throughout.

The latest is a knee injury to second-five Alwyn Hollenbach, which has resulted in him being sent home to Johannesburg and replaced by Anthony Volmink.

Former All Blacks coach Mitchell told South Africa's Business Day: "Pat's also been hit by injuries in this campaign.

He's lost big players like Jerome Kaino, to be fair, and Piri Weepu hasn't quite been at the right weight for most of the tournament.

"For some reason they've also lost confidence - but like us they're trying to find confidence due to the circumstances they're in. It's a little difficult because they seem to personalise the troubles on Pat, who's had a good track record in the past."

Injuries mean Lam cannot pick wings Rene Ranger and George Moala or flanker Chris Lowrey and adding to his difficulties prop Tony Woodcock and hooker Keven Mealamu have failed to recover from calf problems.

So Lam has been forced to reshuffle his cards once again. Gareth Anscombe, dropped from the match-day squad for the defeat to the Hurricanes in Wellington last weekend, starts at first-five, with Michael Hobbs moving out one to second-five and Ma'a Nonu to centre. Benson Stanley and David Raikuna come on to the wings.

Daniel Braid is back in the No7 jersey after starting on the reserves bench last week, with captain and brother Luke switching to the blindside. Liaki Moli starts at lock instead of Filo Paulo.

Mitchell mentioned All Black Kaino, but Isaia Toeava was also ruled out weeks ago and Anthony Boric has a neck problem.

Injuries have also hit the Highlanders as they seek to get their season back on track against the Hurricanes in Dunedin on Saturday. Loose forwards Doug Tietjens and Elliot Dixon and midfielder Shaun Treeby suffered season-ending injuries in the loss to the Sharks in Durban last weekend. Jamie Joseph will announce his side tomorrow morning.

The Hurricanes, four points below the Highlanders on 30, and one place behind in the New Zealand conference, will be desperate to add to the southerners' problems with a victory.

Reggie Goodes, a South African-born 20-year-old prop, has impressed since his return from a shoulder injury and will earn a start against the Highlanders.

The only other changes to the line-up which easily accounted for the Blues in Wellington last weekend see Charlie Ngatai bracketed with Tim Bateman at second five and Tusi Pisi bracketed with Daniel Kirkpatrick on the bench.

The Crusaders are making all the right noises about their match against the Rebels in Melbourne on Saturday night, but they will be disappointed with anything less than a bonus point victory.

"They sit pretty low on the points table [12th] but they're an extremely dangerous side," said Dan Carter. "They've got nothing to lose so they'll be throwing the ball around and looking to play some exciting rugby.

"We were not happy at all with our skill execution last weekend [in win over Reds]. We dropped too many balls and we definitely had to address that."

Richie McCaw will start for the first time this season, replacing Kieran Read, who has played in every game so far. Luke Whitelock is at No8, with McCaw at openside flanker and George Whitelock at blindside.

Gone too from the starting line-up are halfback Andy Ellis and fullback Israel Dagg, replaced by Willi Heinz and Tom Marshall respectively.

Competition leaders the Chiefs face a potentially tricky encounter against the defending champion Reds on Sunday. The Queenslanders have been slowly improving this season and will have noticed the difficulty the Chiefs forwards had against the Lions last weekend when they let in three tries from driving mauls.

- APNZ

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