Johannesburg — It is true that the stop-start nature of the United Rugby Championship (URC) has made the entire experience disjointed to the point where the agency of the tournament has failed to generate any enthusiasm but, hopefully from this weekend onwards, its true merit will finally be systematically exposed.
That is especially pertinent for the South African franchises, who have arguably suffered the most disruption in the tournament, largely due to Covid-19.
That might now be a thing of the past, especially with the Currie Cup running concurrently with the URC for the next few months - the inference being that the SA teams can draw from that competition’s match-fit squads if the need arises.
Moreover, having last played in the URC at the beginning of December, the Emirates Lions and Co now go on a four week long run to string a bevy of results together and define the standings of the tournament. The Joburg-based side starts this particular block of fixtures, after a month-long hiatus, against the Sharks on Saturday (kick-off 3pm) at Emirates Airline Park, having last played the Stormers in a handsome 37-19 victory last year.
On Tuesday, Lions backline, attack and skills coach Ricardo Loubscher cut a confident figure that the extended absence from the URC would not halt the momentum after that win, even though he admitted that it would perhaps have been in the best interest of the team if they had kept playing.
“The last three weeks have gone well in our preparations,” said Loubscher, regarding the team’s training regimen.
“We had a tough three weeks and there is excitement and a lekker buzz in the camp. Everyone is excited about just playing again. From the Stormers game to this game, there is a lot of work that has gone on behind the scenes. Everyone is keen to get out there and play.
“In a perfect world, we would have loved to maybe just have another game or two straight after the Stormers game,” Loubscher continued. “We felt, just the way we played against the Stormers, we were happy with our performance, happy with the momentum. Ideally, another game or two would have been perfect for us.”
It was a sentiment shared by journeyman and senior Lions squad player Fred Zeilinga.
Said the No 10, regarding the disruptions: “We have gotten used to it due to Covid.
“Every week we have to adapt and we have to change,” the 29-year-old continued. “Obviously, we train as good as we possibly can, and we train as if we are playing each weekend.
“The break was good for us. It gave us some time to switch off mentally and these last few weeks off have been good. Everyone has come back fresh. It’s a new year and I think it is going to be exciting this weekend.”
The victory against the Stormers, which now seems such a bygone memory, was built on a solid forwards’ performance, the team making the correct decisions and also taking their immediate opportunities. And it is these facets of play, Loubscher revealed without giving away the keys to the castle, that the Lions will once again be concentrating on this weekend against what surely will be a powerful and experienced Sharks outfit.
“To start off with the set-piece, we were happy with our defence, but there is always room for improvement,” said Loubscher.
“We were happy with the four tries that we scored (against the Stormers) and I think in general we just want to get back to our fitness levels and be happy with our details. We spent a lot of time just working on our details and our attack - our shape off nine, our shape of 10 - and just our kicking game in general to make sure we play the game in the right areas.
“If they (the Sharks) come with a helluva kicking game, which I think they will come with on Saturday, then we must make sure that we can handle those kicks.”
The former Springbok also revealed that the Joburgers have few concerns regarding injuries, save for prop Jannie du Plessis and flank Vincent Tshituka. Both are under medical assessment and awaiting clearance to be selected. The Lions team to play the Sharks will be announced on Thursday.