The Lions can be proud of their pride’s performances in the Currie Cup
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JOHANNESBURG - They say that you learn your best lessons from defeat, and if that has an inkling of truth to it, then the Lions will have learned an abundant amount about themselves, their players, their tactics, and the team this season.
Last Saturday's Currie Cup semi-final defeat to the Blue Bulls in Pretoria was disappointing on many levels.
The game plan might not have been right for knockout rugby, even though the conditions where made for running, while the discipline was a major factor in their 26-21 defeat.
The approach might have been a bit naive, but it also showed that coach Ivan van Rooyen's team are willing to take risks - they just need to apply it in the right circumstances.
The technical team will glean much from this past season and the encounter this past weekend. It will leave them in good stead for their future endeavours as they build towards a competitive side for the ProRugby League later this year.
Van Rooyen and Co have tactically grown in leaps and bounds this season, and the team is taking on his style and game plan.
At 38 years of age, it is easy to forget that he is still a young coach, but there can be no denying that he is stamping his authority and ideology on a ever-improving team with every season in charge.
There is a growing confidence in his tactical approaches to matches, and his doctrine of ‘Team First’ is apparent in every player interview and media opportunity.
There is a healthy squad mentality instilled in the Lions, and it shows in their on-field performances where players are committing to the team vision and espoused through their never-say-die attitude.
The squad depth Van Rooyen now commands is impressive, and the introduction of veterans such as Jannie du Plessis, Willem Alberts, Jaco Kriel and Burger Odendaal has shown what the team lacked early last year, and must now shore up in the upcoming season.
Du Plessis and Alberts are regrettably in the twilight of their careers, and ensuring that there will be players coming in of the same ilk must be of utmost importance in the Lions’ transfer plans.
Their experience and knowledge added that extra edge and grunt to proceedings, and losing that will be a massive blow to the team's ambitions.
Likewise, the development of a core of experienced players is taking shape nicely.
Marvin Orie was arguably the Joburgers’ best player this season, and he was aided admirable by the likes of Vincent Tshituka and Len Myssan, while props Sti Sithole and Carlu Sadie, especially, must be given the opportunity to develop their game further within the Springbok set-up, even if it is only at a squad level.
Wandisile Simelane continued to impress, and his prodigious talent must be introduced onto the international stage. If he continues his current form, then there is no reason he should not receive a national call up this year.
And although the backline failed to live up to expectations, it now has an excellent mix of youth and old heads that can be moulded to devastating effect.
We did not see the likes of Rabz Maxwane – the Pro14 top try scorer in 2019 – Jamba Ulengo or Divan Russouw this Currie Cup, while EW Viljoen, Gianni Lombard and Dillon Smit are still recuperating from injury.
Their eventual return will be a big boon for the Lions, and the competition for places in the team.
By the end of the season Andre Warner had become the No 1 scrumhalf – he was solid in his performances and brought a welcomed level-headedness to the back of the scrum.
But there is no doubt that 23-year-old Morne van den Berg is the future of the union and in time will challenge both Warner and Ross Cronje for a consistent starting berth.
Captain Elton Jantjies was arguably not at his best, but form is temporary, class is permanent, and he will bounce back sooner, rather than later.
In all, despite a handful of setbacks, and a snafu here and there due to Covid-19, the Lions did more than enough growth and introspection to justify their Top 4 finish.
What is now required is to apply the lessons learnt, identify the few positional deficiencies, and manage the game plan to maximum effect.