Cubs still training to be the Lions they were born to be
JOHANNESBURG - As far as an opening preparation match is concerned, the Lions can say that the first corner to their puzzle is now complete – it will not show the final product but it is a good place to start.
What is true after their 32-28 victory over the Pumas on Friday night is that Tiaan Swanepoel will be part of the final image that presents itself to coach Ivan van Rooyen when the business of the Rainbow Cup starts in April.
Swanepoel slotted over 22 points for the Joburgers at Ellis Park, his accuracy when kicking for goal keeping the Lions in the match despite the Pumas enjoying the majority of control throughout the 80 minutes.
“We all know that Tiaan has a massive right boot,” said Van Rooyen after the game.
“Obviously there is game management that is going to take a bit of time and going to take pressure situations for him to learn from.
“We will see how we can fast -track that as quick as possible. In a game like tonight, against a big forward pack, with the ball quite slippery and wet, it is definitely a big attribute to have a massive right boot like that in your team.”
Encouraging for the coach and his charges is how they stuck together and showed a measure of maturity and character under pressure to hold on for the win.
It will be especially pleasing for all involved when considering the youthful nature of the team that ran out for the Lions on the night.
They are by no means the most experienced or grizzled outfit, and yet they remained level-headed in their application for the most part, while their defensive system worked hard, especially during the first half, to deny the Pumas.
Make no mistake, there is a lot of work that needs to be done to knock these players into a unit that can be competitive week in and week out, and the game could have easily have swung the way of the Nelspruit-based team, but there are nevertheless good ball-players that could successfully supplement the first team.
Said Van Rooyen: “I am very proud of the guys.
“I told them as much in the changeroom (after the match) that with basically a week’s preparation, guys only playing together now for the first time, a large group of players playing in their first senior match – a lot of them played maybe four or five games this last year – I am very proud of them.”
The coach was not all praise, however, accepting that there were certain areas that required a hard look at, especially the scrum, which admittedly improved vastly when Springbok veteran Jannie du Plessis came on in the second half, and the line-outs.
“The guys haven’t played much together,” Van Rooyen explained about those crucial areas, “but it isn’t things that we cannot fix.
Our next match is in 10 days from now, so there is an opportunity to improve in both set-pieces.”
The aftermath of the match included another unfortunate injury to Roelof Smit – most likely his MCL – and Van Rooyen at the time was unsure of its severity.
The Lions next play Eastern Province a week on Wednesday, and Van Rooyen was open about the plan for the next encounter.
“There are still a couple of young guys that didn’t get an opportunity (on Friday),” said the coach.
“The seniors – a group that only came back on Monday … so they finished their first week back – it is probably still a week or two too soon to get them ready. We really want to put them into three, fourweek rugby-conditioning pre-season blocks, for a lack of a better term.
“We will have a look at injuries, so we will probably put out another youthful team against the EP,” Van Rooyen concluded.