Rescheduled URC fixtures will help the Lions work on team philosophy
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Johannesburg - The new schedule of the United Rugby Championship (URC) has afforded the South African franchises – the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers - another fortnight to prepare for what will be a gruelling, Marathon-esque five months of tournament play.
The extra time has its perks and its draw-backs. Match-fitness will be reset, but for the Emirates Lions it will afford more time for the team to conform to the philosophy of head coach Ivan van Rooyen and his new coaching team.
The Joburg-based side will now return from their hiatus on January 22, when they face the Sharks at Emirates Airline Park. The last time the Lions would have played then, would have been on December 4 when they dominated the Stormers 37-19 in Cape Town.
The original matches scheduled for that day and the week before against Munster and Cardiff Rugby, respectively, were postponed due to South Africa being placed on the UK’s red list; a result of the discovery of the Omicron variant in the country. Those matches will now be played at Emirates Airline Park on the weekends of March 11 (Cardiff) and March 18 (Munster).
"We are obviously quite pleased with the latest announcement by the URC as it gives us an opportunity to get stuck in and play rugby again," said van Rooyen in a statement released by the union.
"Having played five away games in the tournament thus far, we look forward to finally fronting up against local and European opposition with the majority of those games at Emirates Airline Park."
The extended six-week long break will also be a boon for all the SA teams regarding any niggles and injuries within their squads; and Van Rooyen revealed his belief that the new schedule will renew and reinvigorate his players in the new year.
Said the coach: "I reckon the guys will be motivated by the revised schedule.
“It's an opportunity to build on our last performance in the competition before the break, which we were pretty pleased about. We will have a little over three weeks to prepare upon our return to training.”
“I believe there'll be an urge to play attacking rugby come local derbies time," van Rooyen continued.
"The emphasis on set piece play and physicality are some of the key features of our local derbies. These fixtures always seem to carry a bit of spice, coupled with bragging rights as all four home franchises are keen to make an impression in this tournament.”
The URC will be in action in the next two weeks, sans the SA franchises, with all of the European sides playing in matches over the festive period. Zebre play Benetton on Friday (kick-off 3pm), while there will be local derbies in Ireland (Ulster v Connacht, 7.15pm) and Wales (Cardiff v Scarlets, 5pm) on Boxing Day, while on Monday Scottish teams Glasgow host Edinburgh at 9pm.
All the European teams will also play on the weekend of New Year and the week thereafter before taking a short break from the tournament and then rejoining the weekend of January 28.