Lots of positives for Lions after late defeat
Written off as pretenders and even no-hopers before the Super Rugby match against the Stormers, coach Ivan van Rooyen’s men produced a strong showing in pushing the Stormers to within a whisker of an unexpected win, but ultimately fell short by the narrowest of margins.
A late try by centre Ruhan Nel, after a long passage of play and after the final hooter had sounded, gave the Stormers a 33-30 win at Ellis Park on Saturday - their first in Joburg since 2015.
Van Rooyen admitted afterwards his players were “gutted” by the result and the cruel ending, but he opted to look at the positives of the match.
“The guys are gutted but that also means there’s a fire burning inside of them (and after today) it’s only going to get brighter, and that’s very encouraging for us.”
Indeed. The Lions may have lost in the dying seconds but they showed they are not a team that should be written off just yet.
But lessons were learned.
For one, Van Rooyen should look to the past successful Lions team and stick to the game-plan that worked so well under the coaching regimes of Johan Ackermann and Swys de Bruin.
The Lions must play ball-in-hand rugby at a high tempo and look to ask questions of the opposition right across the field.
When they did that on Saturday, the Stormers looked out of sorts and all at sea.
The Lions have shown they are at their most dangerous when they keep ball in hand, make several passes and run from all parts. It is what brought them reward in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and it is what got them back into the game on Saturday in the second half.
According to some of the statistics from the game, the Lions beat 34 defenders; the Stormers beat just 14 - proof that carrying the ball brings them success.
Overall, compared to the first two games this season, the Lions were much improved at the breakdowns and in defence, but Van Rooyen will have to rethink the make-up of his tight-forwards, especially his tighthead prop and hooker.
The Lions have no choice but to get their scrums and line-outs firing, otherwise they’re going to be on the back foot in all their remaining games this season.
The positives far out-weighed the negatives on Saturday, though.
“So close yet so far,” said Van Rooyen. “It was courageous how the guys fought back, and I’m proud of them.
“The margins between winning and losing are so small. I thought there was lots of good in our game today, like the fact that some guys stuck up their hands for the full 80 minutes, while the guys coming off the bench also made a big contribution. But I also know there are a lot of things we have to work on before we go on tour.”
Van Rooyen can certainly consider giving starts to tighthead Carlu Sadie, hooker Jan-Henning Campher, loose-forwards Willem Alberts and Hacjivah Dayimani, and centre Wandisile Simelane when the Lions next play - against the Waratahs in Sydney on Friday, February 28.
Fit-again Ross Cronje, Jamba Ulengo and even Roelof Smit could also come into the reckoning on tour.
The Lions have a bye this weekend, before flying out on Saturday to Australasia for four matches.
“The players will have Monday and Tuesday off, and then they’ll have a tough Wednesday and Thursday before we fly out on Saturday evening,” explained Van Rooyen.@jacq_west