Lions ready to roar in cat-fight final against Cheetahs
JOHANNESBURG - Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen has called the Currie Cup final against the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein an “amazing opportunity” for his team.
The Lions - minus several seasoned players who left the union after Super Rugby - qualified for the final by beating Griquas 34-19 in an error-strewn semi-final on Saturday. They will face the Cheetahs, who got the better of the Sharks in Bloemfontein, in the last match of the 2019 domestic season.
Van Rooyen’s team will be chasing a first title since 2015 when they beat Western Province in the final, while the Free State side won the trophy in 2016, when they beat the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein.
“We played against this Free State team a few weeks ago (and won 24-22) ... they’re a very good team,” said Van Rooyen. “They’re a tough side so it’s going to be a big challenge, but it’s also an amazing opportunity for us.”
The Lions out-classed Griquas in the semi-final, running in four tries to one. “It was a typical, nervy semi-final,” said Van Rooyen, “so we’re elated to get through.”
Griquas coach Brent Janse van Rensburg, in his last game in charge of the Kimberley-based side before joining up with the Sharks, said the Lions would have to play for the full 80 minutes against the Cheetahs if they’re to win the title.
“The Cheetahs like to keep the ball and look to score tries ... and they’re very good in the last 20 minutes. They like to control the tempo of the game and you know they’re going to throw the kitchen sink at you in those final 20,” said Janse van Rensburg. And he’s right.
In their last two games Franco Smith’s team have finished stronger than anyone, turning around a 33-12 deficit against Western Province to win 38-33 and on Saturday against the Sharks they were at one stage 23-11 behind, but turned on the after-burners in the second half to win handsomely 51-30.
“The Cheetahs have a bit more experience across board (than the Lions); they’re experienced and have some quality Pro 14 players in the mix,” said Janse van Rensburg. “The Lions though are talented, they play with clear minds, and they’ve got some X-factor. It will be an interesting final ... and come down to who arrives on the day, who executes best and who handles the pressure best. I don’t think one team will run away with it.”
Reflecting on his team’s run in this year’s Currie Cup, Janse van Rensburg said: “The pressure of semi-finals rugby maybe got to the guys. Only two of the team that played (on Saturday) had experienced a Currie Cup semi-final before.
“There were soft moments that cost us, we didn’t take our chances, but I can’t question the effort of the players."@jacq_west