EW VIljoen must get Lions backline roaring against Glasgow Warriors
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Johannesburg - There is no doubt that the Emirates Lions have an exciting backline which has the ability to cut through the opposition and eviscerate any defence on the day.
Lions supporters have not seen much of these talents this season, but every so often there is a hint here, a clue there, a moment in between that it all clicks together, leaving the opposition and pundits alike spellbound.
The Zebre encounter, their opening match of the United Rugby Championship (URC), displayed one such instance, albeit for only the first half; while in the Scarlets match last weekend, it was suppressed by the game plan of the Welsh franchise.
Nevertheless, Lions fullback EW Viljoen tried his utmost to spark the backs into action, and the 26-year-old had arguably one of his better outings for the Joburg-based side since joining the union last year.
In general, he was good under the high ball, attacked the gain-line manfully and with intent, and was pretty solid when taken to ground.
Defensively, he might not have had the best of games – he attempted four tackles and only managed to effect two – but his attacking statistics were more than decent.
Viljoen made 102 metres against the Scarlets – by far the most in the match – and beat four defenders in the process.
He was more than willing to take contact, even though he seemed to ignore his passing game.
Viljoen has not always been the first-choice No 15 – injuries, Covid19 and a period in which he lacked form ensured that.
But if he continues in this vein, he might nail down the starting berth, however scarce the competition for the jersey is now.
Said Viljoen of his recent performance: “They kick a lot more this side (in Europe) and they are more tactical in the way that they kick, so it is an adjustment for me. But our mentality is to put the team first. It is how I can be the best for the team week in and week-out … we are definitely capable of handling everything these teams throw at us.
“Covid and injuries are always out of our control but it is how we bounce back from it all,” Viljoen said of his travails.
“Getting game-time week in and week out is a blessing and something that I want to build on and improve on every week.”
The South African sides have found it tough going in the URC, the Lions the only victors after eight games, and Viljoen inferred that these difficulties were a product of not only untested waters, but the distinct play of every team.
“Coming into the URC, we knew that every team is different,” he explained.
“With that said, every team is very clinical and very tactical in the way that they want to play, and every team has their own way of playing (that game plan).
“Starting off the campaign, playing the different teams that play these different kind of game plans, suites us. We need to adapt to every game as we prepare in that week.”
Scottish outfit Glasgow are next up for the Lions on Saturday (4pm SA time kick-off) and will once again test the Lions in a different manner.
Due to the nature of the 4G synthetic pitch used at Scotstoun Stadium, a high-tempo affair can be expected, if the weather holds. The kicking game must also be more accurate, as the ball tends to sit up more.
Opportunities abound for the backs to find space and shine, and with injured flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse out this weekend, Viljoen will need to develop his game further to unleash a backline hungry for tries.