The Emirates Lions and Cell C Sharks might have seemingly forgone defence in their United Rugby Championship (URC) clash this past Saturday – 11 tries were dotted down in the encounter after all – but, specifically for the Joburgers, it was the “coach-killers” that really cost them the match.
The most glaring of these errors was of course the last play the Lions made in the match while trailing 40-37, where they squandered a chance to claim victory when they knocked on the ball on attack. Instead of putting pressure on the visitors in the closing moments, the mistake rather saw a reversal - the Sharks making the best of the turnover to score a sixth try in the 80th minute in the corner for a 47-37 triumph.
It was not the only moment that would have had Ivan van Rooyen and Co angrily ripping their hair out, while cursing their lack of composure and execution.
“We made four big errors,” said Van Rooyen after the loss,” which basically gave them four tries.
“One was a line-out overthrow; one a missed tackle and then they went 15m on to score; the other one from the kick-off; and then a turnover and then they scored from there … and then also I just think territorially, we were just not good enough.”
Nevertheless, and in spite of these errors, both Van Rooyen and skipper Burger Odendaal remained positive after the loss, insisting that although the errors were costly, they are not major issues and are fixable.
Said Odendaal: “It’s small margins.
“Against the Stormers we were very clinical. Every opportunity that we got, we got points on the board. (Saturday) was a bit different ... we still created a lot of opportunities and we could have gotten points on the board but minor errors gave the Sharks opportunities and they scored from that.
“Every time we got points on the board, after the kick off they basically pinned us in our 22 and either got possession there or got a penalty, keeping us in the 22. I don’t think it is major things that we have to sort out, it is small things and at the end of the day it is the small things that make the difference.”
It was a sentiment shared by Van Rooyen.
“It's one line-out where a player misses a detail,” the coach explained, “loses the ball, they transfer the pressure back onto us. The other one, it is a ball-carrier, one short carry, the first arriver a little bit late and that is another seven points.
“It is one or two small things in three or four different areas, so I don’t think we are too far off.”
In many respects, both men are correct in their assessment. Save for a handful of fatuous blunders; and a bit of rustiness regarding match-fitness, the Lions could have won this match. What will perhaps be of a larger concern for Van Rooyen, is his team’s defensive failings.
Once again it is in all probability a lack of gametime that accounted for his team’s 80% tackle success, and not so much a system problem, but the Sharks speed of play, and the Lions’ inability to shut them down with a staunch repose will need to be rectified throughout this week.
The Lions host a wounded Bulls this weekend, and they will have to tighten up their defensive line, and up their physicality to contain the fearful backlash that will undoubtedly come from Jake White’s men. Nevertheless, if they can remedy the errors that cost them this past encounter, then they will surely make a fist of the Jukskei Derby.