JOHANNESBURG - There's no need to panic! That was the assured response of new Golden Lions head coach Swys de Bruin after his side gave up 31-5 lead against the Sharks at Ellis Park on Saturday to lose 47-31.
It was the Lions’ third defeat in four games in this year’s Currie Cup and leaves them in sixth place on the seven-team standings of the Premier Division.
The new-look Lions - with several star players out of the mix due to international duty - raced into a 24-5 lead at halftime and then went 31-5 up soon after the interval to be in a commanding position.
But the dismissal of hooker Robbie Coetzee - for accidentally kicking a Sharks player on the head - in the 51st minute swung momentum in the Sharks’ direction. The visitors would go on to score a further five tries to go with the two they already had, to ease past their hosts.
It was the fourth meeting between the teams this season after the Super Rugby sides met on three occasions, with the Lions winning all three of those encounters.
But while new coach De Bruin - who took over from the now departed Johan Ackermann this week - said afterwards that the Lions were in some spot of bother now, he added there was no reason to panic.
“This is going to be a big test of our character, but we’re not going to panic,” said De Bruin.
“We’re just going to focus on the next game and not add any more pressure on the players than there already is. The reality is we played in a Super Rugby final last week and that’s probably counting against us now ... we had to rest certain players.
"But all we can do is take it one day at a time, go back to our processes and keep doing what we did on Saturday until the red card came.”
Coetzee’s sending off was massive, and changed the whole flow of the game, but De Bruin didn’t want to say too much about the incident and the way it was handled by the officials.
“We really played phenomenal rugby to get to 24-5 and 31-12 ... it was some of the best rugby I’ve seen this team play in a long time. What I saw from a bunch of youngsters, many of whom were filling in, (it) makes me excited about the future. Before the card came we stole a few lineouts, I was happy with what I saw on attack, the defence was brilliant ... and that’s what we must focus on," De Bruin said.
“I’ve watched the red card incident in real time and in slow motion ... but I can’t say anything, not a single word, those are the regulations.”
What De Bruin did say, however, was that discipline wasn’t an issue in the Lions team. Hooker Coetzee was also given his marching orders in the early rounds of Super Rugby and spent some time sitting out with a ban, while Kwagga Smith was red-carded for basically taking a player out in the air in the Super Rugby final nine days ago.
“There is no way (the incidents involving) Kwagga and Robbie are linked to discipline ... I will protect both of them, stand and fall with them. There are no discipline problems,” said De Bruin.
The Lions are next up against Western Province in Cape Town on Friday evening and will be desperate to pick up some points.
“We’ll take stock of our injuries and then decide who’ll be considered for the match. Some of the guys who sat out this match may come in or they’ll have another week off.”