JOHANNESBURG - Having picked up a vital win against one of the “big boys”, the Blue Bulls, the Lions are now well and truly back in the running in this year’s Currie Cup competition. But, they’re also desperate for a break, and they’ll get it this week.
Lions boss Swys de Bruin was understandably a happy man after his team edged their neighbours 36-33 in a thrilling encounter at Ellis Park on Saturday evening, but said the Lions needed to freshen up ahead of greater challenges ahead.
After this weekend’s bye, De Bruin’s men will face the Sharks away, Western Province at home and the Cheetahs away.
“It’s going to be important to stay in the process, but we certainly need a day or two off. Some of us haven’t had any time off since last November ... we went straight into Super Rugby and then straight into the Currie Cup,” said De Bruin.
“I have to guard against staleness. The Sharks have been brilliant and in Durban they’re going to be tough to beat. They’ll be hot favourites there and we simply have to freshen up.”
The Lions though, after a rocky start, have now won three on the trot and are in the top three on the log.
They employed a powerful forwards-based game, built around their scrums and driving mauls, to get the better of the Bulls, who ran hard and fast at the Lions. There was never much between the teams over the 80 minutes, with both scoring five tries.
Bulls boss John Mitchell, who only recently took charge of the Pretoria-based team, was full of praise of his young players. “I’m proud of the way the boys played. They showed great spirit and had good intent on attack.
“We’ve grown a lot as a team. There are still a few cracks, like dealing with pressure situations, but once we sort those things out we’ll get stronger and stronger. Let’s not forget there are quite a few U-21s in this team as well. Our style of football is good though.”
De Bruin, too, was satisfied with the performance of many of his youngsters, among them the half-backs Marco Jansen van Vuuren and Ashlon Davids. “It’s so nice to see the composure they’re playing with. They’re level-headed, which is important, and they understand what we want from them,” said the Lions coach.
There were several quality performances on both sides, but for the Lions it was centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg who stood out. He scored two tries in a strong performance, while for the Bulls fullback Warrick Gelant caught the eye.
The Bulls, with just three wins from eight matches, are in a fight to make the top four for a place in the semi-finals. This week they’re up against the Sharks and then also still have to face Western Province, the Cheetahs and the Pumas.
In some bad news for the Lions and their prop Dylan Smith, the hugely promising youngster who returned to the matchday squad last week after several months on the sidelines following two shoulder operations, hurt his knee ligaments in the warm-up before the game on Saturday and will in all likelihood only return to action again in 2018. “We’ll see what the scans reveal, but it’s a grade two tear,” said De Bruin.