JOHANNESBURG - In spite of coming up short against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday, coach Swys de Bruin has given his team a right tick with regards to their style of rugby and fighting spirit.
The 30-24 defeat was, however, sadly the Lions’ fifth loss in six games and they remain bottom of the Currie Cup points table.
But had it not been for a piece of Sevens magic between Cheetahs replacement flyhalf Cecil Afrika and try-machine Sergeal Petersen after the hooter had sounded to signal the end of the game, the Lions would have won the game.
And that after a spirited fightback in the second spell when they scored tries through Hacjivah Dayimani and Fabian Booysen and Jaco van der Walt had kicked a 78th minute penalty to put the Lions 24-23 up.
But De Bruin’s team were sluggish in the first period and also allowed Rosko Specman to score late in the game for the Cheetahs - also after taking an excellent pass by Afrika -which cost the Lions dearly in the end.
But several Lions players stuck up their hands over the course of the 80 minutes and the performance overall was far better than anything seen up to now.
“The second half showing was very encouraging ... the players stuck to the plan I set out for them at the break, and it worked,” said De Bruin afterwards. “The guys were switched on and played some great rugby.
“And then there were some babies who stuck up their hands, guys like Hacjivah and Aphiwe (Dyantyi), Ashlon Davids and Bradley Thain ... but they’re all so young still, so managing them well will be important. They were excellent for us.”
De Bruin again reiterated that while he was disappointed with the loss, the kind of rugby his team played was refreshing.
“Winning and losing is not everything for us at this stage, it’s more about the process we want to get right and from where we were a week ago against Western Province (losing 39-3) to what we saw against the Cheetahs, well that’s the right path we want to be on.
"The structure was far better this week; the mistakes we can fix.”
Unfortunately for the Lions, they’re already at the halfway point of the competition, having played six games, and it gets no easier with the Pumas visiting Ellis Park this weekend - and they’re coming off a massive 51-15 win over the once mighty Blue Bulls.
And, up and above the 19 players who are already unavailable for various reasons, the injuries keep on disrupting the team.
Flank Cyle Brink and wing Antony Volmink both have to undergo concussion tests today to be ready to come into contention for the Pumas match, while young James Venter, who was on debut in the No 6 jersey and made a truckload of tackles before he hobbled off the field, is likely to have broken his ankle. De Bruin will have a better idea of the severity of those injuries today.
Saturday’s match against the Pumas, who are placed fourth in the standings on 15 points after three wins, kicks off at 2pm.