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Opponents Beware: Lions still on the prowl

Super Rugby
JOHANNESBURG – The Lions have got some bad news for whoever they still have to face in this year’s Super Rugby competition: they are not completely satisfied with their performances so far and are hoping to raise the bar even further in their remaining matches.

That’s the word from the Lions’ leaders after they ran in seven tries to easily beat their northern neighbours, the Bulls, 51-14 in their match at Ellis Park on Saturday. The performance by the Lions in the first half was particularly satisfying - they scored five tries and completely dominated the Bulls – but only managed two further tries in a rather stop-start, slightly error-ridden second spell.

And it is this inability to always go for the full 80 minutes that is somewhat worrying for coach Johan Ackermann and captain Warren Whiteley.

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Warren Whiteley of Lions wins the line-out during their Super Rugby match against the Bulls on Saturday at Emirates Airline Park Stadium. Picture: BackpagePix

“Our bench is there to lift the intensity, to speed up the game, and on Saturday we hoped the likes of Akker van der Merwe, Corne Fourie, Lourens Erasmus, Faf de Klerk would do that, that’s why they get picked,” said Ackermann.

“We’re not happy at all with our second half showing. We dropped off in our accuracy and it’s something we have to fix. We were good at lifting the intensity in the second half last year, but that’s not the case this season.

Bulls fullback Jesse Kriel sets off for his team's second first-half try in the Super Rugby derby against the Lions at Emirates Airlines Park. Photo: NICK LOURENS/ANA

“The reality is we won’t always have the luxury of a big lead, like we had today (Saturday, 39-14). The New Zealand teams lift their game in the second half, so if we’re going to live with them, if we’re going to compete until the end of this competition, we’re going to have to go for the full 80 minutes. We simply have to be more clinical and finish teams off when we get the opportunity to do so,” said Ackermann.

The Lions though produced arguably their best 40 minutes under Ackermann in a stunning first half on Saturday. They scored five magnificent tries, played with pace and skill, used the whole width of the field, made offloads and kicked superbly out of hand. The coach admitted it was very pleasing on the eye.

“We challenged the players in the week to lift their intensity (after the tour to Australia) and because they were back on home soil they produced some quality rugby. It was one of the best 40 minutes I’ve been a part of,” said the coach.

“We played at the level we wanted to play at ... there was speed and intensity, and there were some very pleasing individual touches.”

The Lions’ Harold Vorster hold onto Rabs Maxwane of the Bulls for all his worth in the opening exchanges of their Super Rugby encounter at Ellis Park. Picture: BackpagePix

Whiteley, too, enjoyed his team’s first half offering. “The intensity we played with was phenomenal. I was also really pleased with the willingness to play; the guys were excited to be home and we used the opportunities we created.

“It was a complete first half performance ... we exited our half well and put pressure on when we were in their half, we made good decisions, we were good under the contestable kicks. I think the guys had the right mind-set, they were just mentally switched on and that was pleasing considering this was our first game back from tour.”

There were several quality performances by Lions players, among them Ruan Dreyer, Franco Mostert, Kwagga Smith, Whiteley, Elton Jantjies and two-try hero Ruan Combrinck, who played his first Super Rugby game after returning from a shoulder problem.

Jesse Kriel tries to force his way through, but Courtnall Skosan and Kwagga Smith holds on at Ellis Park. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

They will now turn their attention to the Kings, who they beat handsomely earlier in the competition, but the men from Port Elizabeth have been in decent form recently and will believe they can upset South Africa’s form team. That match kicks off at 2.30pm on Sunday.

@jacq_west

[email protected]

The Star

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