Pride of Joburg will be ready for ‘other’ Lions
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CAPE TOWN - AFTER a nerve-racking final 10 minutes of their Currie Cup encounter against Western Province on Wednesday, Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen can take a deep breath and exhale.
The 38-32 victory at Ellis Park was a far cry from the poor performance his team had against the Pumas a week ago. There was confidence, commitment and character and they put WP under the pump from the get-go.
A good victory was a box that needed to be ticked off, especially now that the coach and team must turn their attentions to their upcoming fixture against the British & Irish Lions next weekend.
And Van Rooyen did not mince his words when asked if his team were ready for the massive challenge that lays in front of them.
“I think there are certain areas where we are ready and where we can compete and put them under pressure,” Van Rooyen said.
“There are certain areas where we probably need to be a little bit better next week. I think when we go through a mental dip, we look a little bit vulnerable. Even though we had 13 guys (after two yellow cards on Wednesday), I think mentally we were a bit frantic, instead of being in charge.
“The obvious factor is we are going to be playing against 23 Test players and probably 23 out of the top 35, 40 Test players in Europe. We’ll see this weekend exactly how they want to play, even though they are playing against Japan. I think the occasion will lift everyone, us and them.
“It is a once-in-a-career occasion. The guys are excited. We've got a tough couple of training days ahead to get us closer to where we want to be. At altitude anything is possible, to be honest.”
The Lions team that beat WP so soundly, especially for 70 minutes of the encounter, was not the union's most powerful selection and the fact that they managed to turn-around their fortunes in five days between matches, is a testament to their spirit.
It will also give Van Rooyen a selection conundrum as the majority of his squad - the more senior, experienced veterans - continue to return from injury and Covid-19 quarantine.
So, who will make the cut next weekend, is a question that will be on the lips of all rugby supporters, and Van Rooyen was quite honest with his initial instinct.
“Obviously the return (Covid19) protocol has got ECG tests, and stresstests, and all of that,” he said.
“So, I think the final batch of tests should be before Saturday. We should have a good idea Friday afternoon or Saturday afternoon exactly where we are with players returning, how fit they are, how ready they are. The gut feel and feedback we are getting is about 80% of those players should be ready to go.
“We haven't chosen a final squad yet, but I can tell you that a guy like Sti (Sithole) should be available again. Jaco (Visagie) had his first game back tonight. Jannie (du
Plessis) has returned training-wise; he wasn't quite ready for tonight yet, so he will be available.
“Jaco (Kriel) is going through his fitness test, and he is looking good so he could be available ... Burger Odendaal ...
“We haven't played Ross (Cronje) yet. Ross could be available. Andre Warner, unfortunately broke his cheek-bone and it got operated on, so he is in a race against time. Divan Russouw is available and on his way back. So there are some nice headaches for us over the next two, three days.”