JOHANNESBURG - A brave new world awaits the Lions on Friday night when they face Zebre in the United Rugby Championship (URC), but thanks to previous exploratory expeditions and good old fashioned video recordings, the Joburgers won’t be going in totally unprepared when they face the Italian-based franchise.
“We managed to get some footage from a week or two ago (a pre-season match), and then there is a lot of Rainbow Cup,” said head coach Ivan van Rooyen on Thursday at the team announcement.
“The big focus the last two weeks has been on us, our systems, our intensity, our intent. There are possible opportunities, in one or two law changes and variations so it is exciting for us to have kicking ability at nine, 10, 15 - great players that could get us into a 50-22 scenario.
“We are going to be a bit more conservative in the first three, four games – again just to keep it simple, keep it clear “Zebre,” Van Rooyen continued with regards to their opposition, “like to play a tempo game, they like to keep the ball alive and play an attacking style. If they get that right, they will put us under a lot of pressure there. If we manage to put some pressure on them, they might give us some turnover.”
The Lions find themselves starting the tournament in Parma in the Northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, and Van Rooyen seemed quite pleased with their locale as they prepare to play at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi stadium on Friday night.
Said Van Rooyen: “It’s nice and humid, it almost feels very similar to Nelspruit.
“We are 60, 80km from the coast. So it is in the mid-20s. The ball and the players arms and bodies will actually be quite slippery. It has been nice to have a full week of experiencing that.
“The pitch is going to be conducive to nice running, attractive, quick, intensive rugby. With the new 50-22 rule, we can probably encourage a little bit more tactical kicking initially but if you can keep on the ball and manage to build pressure through the ball in the right areas, it can be a really attractive game.”
Indeed, balmy weather is expected during the match, with a minute chance of rain on the day.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the newly-minted URC and SuperRugby of previous years, will be the amount of travelling the teams must endure, especially the South African franchises. No longer bound to tedious trips to Australasia, and the fatigue and jet-lag associated with those journeys, the SA teams – in due time as they acclimatise to the new competition – might be able to reach their full potential overseas.
Van Rooyen also gave his thumbs-up regarding this aspect of the new tournament, saying: “It’s actually very nice.”