JOHANNESBURG – It’s so far, so good for the weakened Lions in this year’s shortened Currie Cup competition.
With a record of two-from-two, and four to play, it would seem stand-in coach Ivan van Rooyen’s men already have one foot in the knockout rounds.
Having squeaked past the Pumas (38-37) and also edged Western Province (30-28), the Lions are third with nine log points after two games. The Cheetahs - who they face in Bloemfontein tomorrow - are first with 10 points, while Griquas are second, also with 10 points.
Griquas have played three games to the two each by the Cheetahs and Lions, while fourth-placed Western Province (seven points) have also played three times.
In fifth place are the Sharks, with five points from two games, followed by the Bulls (five points) and Pumas (three points), who have played three times.
Besides not having Springbok players Malcolm Marx, Elton Jantjies and Kwagga Smith available, Marvin Orie has been in and out of the Bok picture, while Aphiwe Dyantyi is injured.
Also unavailable for the Currie Cup is full-back Andries Coetzee, who’s playing abroad, while Cyle Brink (broken hand) and Courtnall Skosan (knee) are unlikely to play again this year. Additionally, Warren Whiteley (knee) is nursing his way back to full fitness which will see him either play for the Lions in the remaining Currie Cup games or join the Boks.
Add experienced and key loosehead prop Dylan Smith and flyhalf Gianni Lombard, who are also both injured, to the “unavailable list” and you realise the Lions are extremely thin on player resources.
And let’s not forget the men who left the Lions after the Super Rugby campaign, among them Lionel Mapoe, Sylvian Mahuza, Harold Vorster, Ruan Combrinck, Nic Groom, Robert Kruger and Robbie Coetzee.
There has been little room for rotation and experimentation for Van Rooyen and his coaching team in the Currie Cup and while the coach admitted this week the two come-from-behind wins were nice, he’d prefer it if his side didn’t leave things so late.
“Those two wins would certainly have boosted the players’ confidence and that’s what youngsters feed off ... confidence is something one feels,” said Van Rooyen ahead of the round four match.
“I’m happy with the way things have gone so far with this young team, but do I want the guys to be in the positions we’ve found ourselves recently? No.”
Van Rooyen added the match would be his charges’ biggest test so far this year. “The Cheetahs are a totally different challenge to what we’ve faced so far, because they’ve played a lot together at a high level, in the Pro 14,” said Van Rooyen.
A second straight win on the road - against the log leaders, and against the odds - would ensure the Lions get one foot in the semi-finals. Kickoff tomorrow is 7pm.@jacq_west