JOHANNESBURG – With a three-from-three record, the Lions are sitting pretty in second place on the Currie Cup points table at the halfway point of this year’s competition.
Those wins though have been by one (38-37 against the Pumas), two (30-28 against Western Province) and two (24-22 against Free State) points, so it hasn’t been all plain-sailing for Ivan van Rooyen and his team.
So, if they’re to make if four in a row (to go top of the standings) and ensure it’s not another heart-stopping affair, when they play the Blue Bulls at Ellis Park this Saturday, they’re going to have to be better in several areas.
Get off to a strong start
The Lions have made life extremely difficult for themselves so far by falling behind early and having to claw their way back into their contests. Against the Pumas in round one they had to overturn a 16-point deficit in the second half to win, thanks mainly to four-try hero Madosh Tambwe, while they were asked to come back from being 21-10 behind at the break against Western Province to win late on thanks to a converted try by Tyrone Green.
Last week they hit back from being 19-0 down just before half-time to win against the Free Staters in Bloemfontein. The Lions cannot surely continue in this vein - falling behind just to come back and win late on - and they’ll hope to make a strong start against their neighbours this Saturday.
Be better in the scrums
The Lions have been a mixed bag at scrum-time during the Currie Cup and sadly haven’t hit the same great heights we saw in Super Rugby. Sadly, loosehead specialist and highly underrated Dylan Smith is again injured, while loan player from the Cape, Carlu Sadie, isn’t available for the Lions anymore.
On top of that, the Joburg team have now also lost Jacobie Adriaanse to injury so after a bit of a hammering in the scrums by the Free State side last Friday the pressure is on this weekend. The onus is now on the likes of Sti Sithole, Johannes Jonker and some of the other rookie props and locks to stand tall against a formidable Bulls scrum unit.
A quality scrum is nowadays as crucial as anything in the game; as was seen in Bloemfontein last weekend when the Lions won a penalty at the death in this department, for Shaun Reynolds to step up and kick the winning goal.
Kick the penalties
Statistics of teams opting to kick to touch for a line-out throw rather than kicking a penalty are not easy to find, but it is happening more and more and not always with a positive outcome. The Lions are famous for not kicking penalties, preferring to rather back their line-out and drive, and while they have had success from the decision in the past, they’ve also - like many teams - missed out on putting points on the board.
It’s nearly cost them a few times this year and in a tight game, and when behind on the scoreboard, it is perhaps best to knock over the penalty and start again. Every point from here on in will be crucial and the Lions won’t want to come up short because of a failure to kick penalties when they could have.@jacq_west