Lions hoping for pot luck against Bulls in Rainbow Cup opener
JOHANNESBURG - The one team that has haunted the Lions in recent years is the first team they will face in the Rainbow Cup this weekend and is the one team they have been unable to overcome recently.
Northern neighbours the Bulls have won the last six encounters against the Joburgers in all competitions. In the previous season that included all three games, one of them a Currie Cup semi-final.
The encounters have been mostly narrow defeats for coach Ivan van Rooyen and his team, but arguably not close enough, and they will need a massive push on Saturday (kick-off 4pm) at Loftus Versveld if they are to overturn that recent record.
So, how will Van Rooyen structure this week, and what will the 38-year-old coach concentrate on, as he endeavours to engineer a winning gameplan?
"During the Preparation Series we used the week to experiment with one or two things," explained Van Rooyen.
“But now it is back to a normal, competitive game week, so back to
Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.
Gym work will be one of the focusses.
"Normally, Wednesdays are our off days, our recovery days.
"On Monday we will focus on our structures and what we want to fix, and get the plan ready for Saturday. We will make sure every one then understands the plan that we want to go into the game with.
“On Tuesday will be a combination of both, it is a bit more unstructured.
“Thursday is our plan and what we can expect from the Bulls, plus a big intensity session, and Friday will be the captain's (run).
"For us it will be, and I don't want to call it a more complete game, but to look at the balance between over-kicking and under-kicking, overplaying and under-playing," said Van Rooyen.
“So, I think it is feeling what the pressure is in that circumstance and making better decisions in that moment. It is difficult to get that just through training, so one of our big focusses this week will be to focus on specific scenarios and the kind of outcome we want from that scenario."
During the 2020/21 season, the Bulls outmuscled the Lions whenever they met, and it was through a measure of the Lions' never-say die attitude and indomitable spirit that they pushed their trans-Jukskei rivals to the final moments of their encounters.
The Joburgers will need spades full of that, which has certainly been one of their defining characteristics in recent years.
They will also have to front-up against a powerful Bulls pack, ensuring that they do not get bullied on-and-off the ball at the set-pieces and the breakdowns, which has been the case in the last handful of matches.
The Lions also go into the fixture without their proven match-winner and captain Elton Jantjies, so whoever slots in at flyhalf – at the moment it is likely to be either Tiaan Swanepoel or Fred Zeilinga – will need their game to be on point from the first whistle.
The Lions sport an exciting backline, and marshalling the likes of Wandisile Simelane, and a bevy of impressive wings which include Courtnall Skosan, Stean Pienaar,
Rabz Maxwane and possibly a returning Jamba Ulengo, will be of paramount importance.
If Van Rooyen's words ring true, then the Lions coach is already and seemingly leaning towards a kicking game reliant on territorial dominance, so once again the halfback pairing will need to be pinpoint accurate in their execution.
The week is still young though, and it could be a bit of mind-games to defocus the Bulls, but one thing is for sure – the Lions will need to be at their best out of the gate to finally beat Jake White's team.