Stability is crucial for Lions ahead of Rainbow Cup SA clash against the Sharks
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“Consistency is key for us currently,” said Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen after announcing his team to face the Sharks this weekend in the fourth round of the Rainbow Cup.
“I think we have been building a bit of momentum the last two, three weeks in the way we have been training and playing,” Van Rooyen added.
“Fortunately, the last game went our way, so it is another opportunity this week for the team to move forward. Maybe next week we will look at one or two rotations but for this week consistency was important.”
And true to his word, the Lions coach selected a virtually unchanged matchday squad to take on the Durbanites in a match that could have massive repercussions in the standings and who will ultimately lift the conference championship.
The Lions are fourth in the table with eight points, but a handsome victory over the Sharks tomorrow will propel the Joburgers above their opponents this weekend.
Furthermore, a Stormers victory tonight against the Bulls will blow the tournament wide open and ensure the very real possibility that any of the four sides could still win the regular season and face the top European club in the North v South final in a fortnight.
That possibility won’t be on Van Rooyen’s mind, nor in the thoughts of his players just yet. Instead, the Lions will be fully focussed on the Sharks, and the coach revealed his insights on how they will play and how to beat them.
Said Van Rooyen: “The way the Sharks play, and their philosophy, is a pressure game.
“If you give them the time and the space then they can really squeeze you into your own half, and if you then make errors, they really have exciting players that can capitalise on that.
“It is pretty clear that they want
to play a territory game, they want to force you into 50-50 areas and then they want to counter-attack from there … they can punish you on attack.
“They have a great defensive system which puts you under pressure, so I don’t think it is Jekyll and Hyde,” he said, referring to the inconsistent nature of the Sharks’ season so far.
“As much as they manage to put you under pressure and counter your pressure. The same is going to come our way this weekend. If we don’t put them under pressure in the way we want to play and you allow them to dictate the game, then they are extremely dangerous.”
Much to the surprise of the Bulls now a fortnight ago, the Lions played a far more enterprising game plan in their narrow victory over their northern neighbours.
Previously, Van Rooyen applied a forward-dominated stratagem to tackle the opposition, but against the
Bulls they employed a more balanced plan that fronted up psychically, but also unleashed their dangerous runners in the backline.
Van Rooyen stressed that although finding the correct equilibrium between the two ideologies was key, that it wouldn’t always be an equal output.
“We have been saying for quite some time now that our forwards are becoming more consistent physically, and our first phase is also more consistent,” said the coach.
“It will always be a balancing act for us between playing attractive rugby and physical rugby – it is a facet that we must find more balance in.
“Our set pieces, nevertheless, are growing, so I don’t think you can ever remove it from the game, especially not here (on the Highveld) with the dry and cold weather we are currently experiencing.
“So we will have to strike a balance with what is happening up front; must we be tighter or can we give the ball a bit of air, and hopefully it will become apparent in the first 15 to 20 minutes on Saturday.”
The Lions coach also said the squad had begun the process of vaccinating against Covid-19 with the aid of SA Rugby.
Kick-off for the match at Emirates Airline Park is 4pm. It will be followed by the Springbok squad announcement to face the British & Irish Lions.
Starting XV: EW Viljoen; Rabz Maxwane, Wandisile Simelane, Burger Odendaal (capt), Courtnall Skosan; Jordan Hendrikse, André Warner; Len Massyn, Vincent Tshituka, MJ Pelser; Reinhard Nothnagel, Ruben Schoeman, Carlu Sadie, Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole Replacements: PJ Botha, Ruan Dreyer, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Willem Alberts, Emmanuel Tshituka, Morné van den Berg, Fred Zeilinga, Dan Kriel