So near and yet so far for the Lions in the Currie Cup
CAPE TOWN - The Lions may be a better team in a number of areas now but that is scant consolation after being knocked out of the Currie Cup by the Blue Bulls in the semi-finals.
Coach Ivan van Rooyen spoke about how their defence and setpieces had improved from the start of the 2020 Super Rugby tournament, through to Super Rugby Unlocked and the Currie Cup.
But he expressed his frustration with how the Johannesburg side slipped to a 26-21 defeat at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday, having made a spirited comeback early in the second half to even things up at 14-14 with tries by Willem Alberts and Wandisile Simelane.
One of the reasons was their poor discipline, with the Lions conceding 20 penalties to just the 10 of the Bulls.
The major turning point was the two yellow cards conceded in three minutes by locks Marvin Orie and Alberts for repeated infringements.
The Bulls had regained the lead just before Orie’s departure via Johan Grobbelaar’s maul try, and then Stravino Jacobs grabbed his second touchdown after Alberts was ordered off by referee Rasta Rasivhenge.
“I can sit here and say whether it was harsh or wasn’t harsh, but it won’t make a difference, to be honest. But to play with 13 guys, you are up against it anyway,” Van Rooyen said.
“I don’t think you will win any game with 20 penalties against you. What happens is that you give the opposition momentum, and then the ref tends to be a little more harsh anyway, which is normal. That’s our own fault, not Rasta’s.”
The Lions boss still believed the ball-in-hand strategy to stretch the Bulls was the right way to go, whereas ‘play-off rugby’ tactics usually results in South African teams keeping things tight with their forwards and a strong kicking game.
It was the execution that the coach felt let his team down.
“I felt that one or two times, we tried to force it in our own half, which was unnecessary and puts you under pressure.
“When we managed to hold on to the ball, we did make some good metres.
“So I don’t think we went there too early – it’s when we get there, can we keep the pressure on through phases? When we turned the ball over, we just gave the ball back to them.”
The fact that the Lions also had two home matches cancelled due to Covid-19 affected their campaign, as they could have secured an Ellis Park semi-final.
“I think we grew a lot – and that’s part of the frustration. We got better every week during the season and good enough to win a semi-final away from home. That’s why it hurts so much,” said Van Rooyen.
“We were under the pump at the start of the Currie Cup after Super Rugby Unlocked, and I’m proud of the guys to win five in a row. Then we got stuck two weeks in a row (against the Bulls), and that’s the difference between a final and a semi-final.”