JOHANNESBURG – Golden Lions have gone into playoffs mode, according to captain Jacques van Rooyen.
The Joburg-based team are in fourth place in the Currie Cup standings with two regular season games to play, against Western Province on Sunday (2.30pm) and the Free State Cheetahs next Saturday.
Win these clashes and they’ll be in the top four and feature in the semi-finals.
But any slip-ups, as happened against the Sharks in Durban last weekend, and the Pumas or Blue Bulls could go past them.
Van Rooyen, who’s led the team in the absence of men like Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel and Ross Cronjé, said his team were aiming to just make the top four.
“It’s like we’re in the playoffs already. We know what is at stake in the next two games and for us, getting into the top four is all that matters.
“Once you’re in the semi-finals, anything can happen. Miss out and you’re done, you’ve got no chance.
“So, from this weekend it’s flat-out for us. Western Province pose an exciting challenge for us and if we play like we did before our bye, I’m confident we’ll give them a good run at home. And the Cheetahs will always be a tough one.”
Before their bye two weekends ago, the Lions had won three matches in a row to get back in the Currie Cup picture after a slow start, but defeat to the Sharks in a wet Durban last week halted that momentum.
Van Rooyen said it was important for them to find the form they produced before their bye week, especially if they were to be title contenders later on.
“The talent is there and there’s enthusiasm to play too, but we need to get some momentum behind us again.
“The youngsters have been excellent in the competition and many of them have stuck their hands up. Hopefully we can get back on track this weekend.”
The Lions are expected to be boosted by the return of a handful of Springboks for the Cheetahs game next week, if coach Swys de Bruin wants to use them, but definitely for the playoffs, should the Lions qualify.
Here one thinks of Andries Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan, Ross Cronjé, Malcolm Marx and Ruan Dreyer.
“I’m not sure they’ll come in for the Cheetahs game but definitely for the semi-finals if we’re involved,” said Van Rooyen.
“It would be a great boost because we’ve really not had many senior guys in the ranks recently, and they always bring a lot of calm to the team and their experience is of course invaluable.”
The good news for Lions rugby in the last two months is that several youngsters have had an opportunity to play regularly at a higher level than Under-21 and have boosted the depth at the union, and Van Rooyen believes De Bruin will have some selection headaches come the 2018 Super Rugby competition.
“Look, it’s difficult to know who’ll be able to step up because Super Rugby is played at a higher intensity, with greater skills levels and under pressure, but there are certainly some guys in the Currie Cup team who’ve done very well.
“It’ll be up to the individuals to show they’re ready; they’re going to need a good pre-season to understand what coach Swys wants and expects, and then they must take their chance.
“But that there are some youngsters here who can do it at Super Rugby level is a certainty.”
De Bruin will name his line-up for the WP match on Friday.