Lions captain Burger Odendaal celebrates with Wandisile Simelane after scoring a try during their United Rugby Championship game against Zebre on Friday. Photo: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO/Shutterstock
Lions captain Burger Odendaal celebrates with Wandisile Simelane after scoring a try during their United Rugby Championship game against Zebre on Friday. Photo: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO/Shutterstock

’We wanted to hit the ground running,’ says Lions skipper Burger Odendaal after Zebre win

By Mike Greenaway Time of article published Sep 25, 2021

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The Lions will be in better mental as well as physical shape when they play the Scarlets in Llanelli on Friday after having overcome their first-round hurdle in Parma where they survived a second-half melt down to beat Zebre 38-26.

Coach Ivan van Rooyen said the comeback by the Italians — they were behind 35-0 at the break — was down to his team physically tiring because they had had a tough week of conditioning while the players also subsciously took the foot off the gas and departed from the script.

“We had a tough training week because we felt we are lacking match fitness for the way we want to play — we knew it would be something of a double-edged sword because we needed the fitness but understood that we might flag in the last quarter of the match,” Van Rooyen said.

Captain Burger Odendaal added that the plan had been to hit the ground running and make an immediate impact on Zebre.

“There was a big emphasis on starting well in the first 20 minutes and establishing a good foundation, and we achieved that, and then in the second half it almost felt that we got lackadaisical and Zebre fed off our mistakes,” Odendaal said.

Van Zyl pointed out that there was a long period in the second half when the Lions barely saw the ball.

“We hardly touched the ball for 20 minutes and if we did get it, it was deep in our half, so we could not really play rugby because we were under pressure,” he said. “They kept the ball for long periods so we had to scramble on defence and our error rate increased.”

Van Zyl said his team was relieved to put an unfortunate Currie Cup campaign behind them but emphasised that they have plenty to work on. He also felt that a big performance from the Lions had been brewing ...

“We had a similar performance against WP just before we played the British and Irish Lions but this was a step up in intensity; plus we were having a crowd for the first time and that gave us energy.”

Odendaal added that players had loved the experience of playing in a packed stadium.

“We were a bit nervous about playing before fans because empty stadiums had been the norm for so long but on the field, the buzz was awesome and the guys fed off it. It definitely helped us in that first half. We just hope we get fans in our stadiums when we go back home.”

It did not help the Lions that had to take a senior player in Jaco Kriel off at half time — it was always the plan for a player making a comeback — but Van Zyl said the biggest issue was the players straying from the game plan.

“A major focus for us going forward is to not get impatient in our systems because when we did stick to things like our defensive scrums and mauls, the players got excited. I don’t think it was a conscious decision to take the foot off the pedal... It is an educational thing for us as a group new to this competition. It must be about consistently repeating good execution.”

@MikeGreenaway67

IOL Sport

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