PRETORIA – The Lions are three from three in what can only be described as a perfect start to the 2018 Super Rugby season under new head coach Swys de Bruin. And it could be six from six in the coming weeks if all goes according to the form book.
After opening their challenge with a hard-fought win at home against the Sharks, the Lions swept past the Jaguares and on Saturday moved up a gear in also beating the Bulls, at Loftus Versfeld, for their first away win of the season.
It was always going to be a big test for De Bruin and his new-look coaching team, but there was only one team in it - and that was the visitors. The two-time runners up from 2016 and 2017 combined raw forward power with pace and skill at the back to win 49-35, a score-line that flatters the Bulls, who got two late consolation tries.
Both De Bruin and captain Warren Whiteley said switching off at the end was something they’d have to work on in the weeks to come.
“Three from three is a good a start, but we know Super Rugby isn’t won in March. We need to keep building, keep working. I thought we should have kept them (the Bulls) out at the end. There were some soft moments, but there were also many positives,” said Whiteley.
Added De Bruin: “We’re grateful for the win but we made a few errors at the end and that’s disappointing. It’s a pity about those tries we let in, but that’s rugby.”
The Lions though did a lot of good for most of the match; their driving maul was especially good and they scored several tries from the move. They scrummed strongly and Malcolm Marx hit his targets in the line-outs, while at the back Ross Cronje and Elton Jantjies combined well to keep their team on the front foot and in the right areas of the field.
“Hats off to Philip Lemmer (the forwards coach) and Franco (Mostert, who played well at blindside flank) and Wozza (Whiteley) ... those line-out drives worked according to our plans, so I’m very happy,” said De Bruin.
It was a slightly different approach from what the Lions normally dish up, even though their set-pieces have always been solid; proof that getting it right up front before anything else remains a cornerstone of the game. “We’ve seen in the last few years you can only play the game you want to play if your tight phases are good. It’s still the bread and butter of the game,” said De Bruin.
On Mostert, who was a tower of strength in the line-outs, playing No 7 flank instead of lock, De Bruin said the plan was a major success. “I was a bit nervous about the change in position but I also know what he’s capable of and he was unreal. It worked well for us. The ice is now broken and I know he can play flank or lock at any time and that’s awesome,” said the Lions boss.
The Lions face the erratic Blues at home this weekend and then the Sunwolves in two weeks time before travelling to Buenos Aires for a return date with the Jaguares - all three games De Bruin and Co will believe they can win. If they do manage that, they’ll be well on their way to featuring in the play-offs again.
“We mustn’t be fooled by one game (against the Bulls),” said the coach. “There are 15, 16 hurdles to get over in this competition, and we’re going to take them on one at a time. The worst thing that can happen now is for us to get ahead of ourselves.”