JOHANNESBURG - The Lions have full confidence flyhalf and goal-kicker Jaco van der Walt will be ready for whatever Cape Town throws his way when his team come up against Western Province in a Currie Cup semi-final match on Saturday.
Three years ago in the final of the competition the Lions kickers missed five penalties and two drop-goal attempts as they crashed 16-19 to Western Province. It was learned afterwards that the Lions had only arrived in Cape Town on the morning of the match and that ace goal-kicker Marnitz Boshoff hadn’t had enough time to prepare on the Newlands turf and get accustomed to the conditions.
Come kick-off and a strong breeze and Boshoff was completely put off his game ... and it cost his team what should have been a Currie Cup triumph. The Lions had dominated the game, but the home side slotted their kicks.
“This time we’re going early,” said Lions boss Swys de Bruin onnThursday when asked about that final three seasons ago. “Jaco will have enough time to practice (this) afternoon.”
Van der Walt has a massive game ahead of him. He has played mainly at fullback this season, but last week shifted to No 10 - a position he is familiar with - and delivered a standout performance in helping the Lions down the Cheetahs.
“Jaco’s a tough, physical player who always seems to play well in the big games,” enthused De Bruin. “Whether he’s at 10 or 12 he just does his job. He’s really looked good in the last two weeks.”
Indeed. But Newlands hasn’t been kind to the Lions in the recent past; their last Currie Cup triumph coming at the ground way back in 2012. The team that runs out on Saturday includes only three men who were victorious that day, namely Andries Coetzee, Ross Cronje and Ruan Dreyer, the scrumhalf playing off the bench.
“We’ve tried to instil in this group that it doesn’t matter where you play, that what happens between the four white lines remain the same,” said De Bruin. “I think since we beat the Chiefs (in Hamilton in Super Rugby in 2016), we’ve not been bothered by away matches. The key thing is to just focus on the job at hand and not worry about outside influences.”
Captain Jacques van Rooyen agreed with his coach that the players were viewing the game as just another game.
“We just want to go out there and play, achieve our goals, get over the gain-line and the rest will take care of itself. We don’t want to concentrate on where the game is taking place or think that it’s a difficult venue.”
De Bruin has picked all five of his available Springboks, with hooker Malcolm Marx and prop Ruan Dreyer joining Cronje, Coetzee and Courtnall Skosan in the starting team this week. De Bruin said it was great having these men available again.
“Their attitude coming in has been unreal and of course they make a big impact,” said the coach. “Being able to pick a guy like Malcolm is nice, he inspires everyone around him. But, rugby remains a team sport and from every Bok to a player like 20-year-old (flank) Len Massyn, everyone needs to contribute and everyone needs to make an impact.
“We’re excited about the game and the challenge ahead. Rugby stays a game of heart ... and I believe the team that wants it more will win on Saturday.”
Kick-off is at 5pm.