Lions looking at the bright side of the Rainbow Cup
JOHANNESBURG - YES, it went a little pear-shaped last weekend against the Stormers, but overall the Lions can be pretty chuffed with their performances in the Preparation Series.
Head coach Ivan van Rooyen and his players managed to win three of their four matches, beating the Pumas, Eastern Province and the Sharks in the process.
Although it was not as convincing as they would have liked, it revealed that the new gems and old hands will be ready for the upcoming Rainbow Cup starting at the end of the month.
It also showcased some magnificent running rugby and skills, along with a few shortcomings that can be rectified in the next few weeks.
As such, Van Rooyen believes that on the whole it was a successful pre-season for the Joburgers.
“In the first two games, we really picked a couple of seniors with a lot of juniors,” the coach explained.
“Looking back, post-campaign, that young team that beat the Pumas was actually a great one.
“The whole squad got some game-time, we had the opportunity to work with everyone, we had the opportunity to see everyone play under pressure. So I think all in all it was a successful campaign.”
That doesn't mean it was perfect, and the Lions coach was more than willing to point out the failings of his squad.
Speaking to Independent Media this week, Van Rooyen argued that although it was exciting to watch his charges run with the ball, it didn't necessarily tick all of the boxes set out by the technical team and players.
“With an eye on Europe, we really didn’t utilise the kicking game enough,” he said.
“Just because of the nature of the competition, the time of day that we played, it was just so conducive for running and exciting rugby.
“I think we probably could have forced a structured kicking game a bit better, but if you look at it from a conditioning point of view, for 80 minutes there was good intensity, good ball-in-play. For 80 minutes we got some good contact and collisions in.
“The biggest thing that is a positive, but can also be a frustration, is keeping the opponents under constant pressure, whether it is in attack or defence,” Van Rooyen added.
“Currently, on both sides, we make one or two errors that are costly ... The relentless will to keep the ball in attack is a great way for us to apply pressure there, obviously with the correct decision-making and quick-ball.
“I think we coughed up too much ball, even in Super Rugby, Currie Cup and in these four games.
“Defence is all about the consistency of the individual within that system and one or two individual errors were costly.”
It is true. The inability of the Lions to defend their line was one of the biggest concerns during these preparation matches, as was protecting the ball at the breakdown at all times, which resulted in turnovers that ended in tries scored against them.
The team's discipline was perhaps not up to scratch either, as they infringed on multiple occasions, and were dealt more than one yellow card.
Nevertheless, Van Rooyen can be pleased with the way his set-pieces performed.
The scrum stood up well, if not outright dominated, while the lineouts for the most part were secure in their application and execution, and, as mentioned, the attack was at times glorious to behold.
With their first match of the Rainbow Cup against the Bulls edging ever closer, Van Rooyen concluded with a final thought on how the Lions can improve, and win their matches
“It is with consistency in attack, keeping the ball and not spilling it, and our individual decision-making.”