JOHANNESBURG – Having lost in Buenos Aires on their last two visits, the Lions are hoping to be third time lucky when they clash with the Jaguares in Super Rugby on Saturday.
In 2016 the Lions lost 34-22 and last year they went down 36-24, on both occasions former coach Johan Ackermann sending a weakened side into the clash.
This time, however, under the guidance of Swys de Bruin, the Lions will be at full strength; that is if you don’t consider the handful of players not available because of injury.
One of the men hoping to have a successful trip and put the last two weeks of unimpressive performances behind them (the Lions lost to the Blues and just scraped home against the Sunwolves) is centre Lionel Mapoe.
The 29-year-old is enjoying another good season in the centres, but he’ll face a completely new and different challenge on Saturday having not been part of the Lions' tour squad in 2016 and 2017.
But he has a fair idea of what to expect.
“I haven’t been there with the Lions but I know that in front of their own fans, with home ground advantage, they’re going to be pumped,” said Mapoe before the team’s departure to South America yesterday.
“They’re going to be up for it, especially as they’ve beaten us the last few years. They’ll bring it to us... also because they lost last weekend (to the Reds at home). But I’m looking forward to the challenge; we all are. They’re a national side and because they can blow hot and cold, you just don’t know what you’re going to get, which day they’re going to be hot and which day cold.
“They’re capable of beating anyone on their day.”
Mapoe has started every game for the Lions so far this season, with coach De Bruin alternating between Harold Vorster and Rohan Janse van Rensburg at inside centre, while Howard Mnisi is still waiting for his first start of 2018. The competition for a starting spot is fierce.
“I’ve been playing with Harold and Rohan in the mix for the last four years so I know them, which makes it easy whoever starts, but we also need to make a connection and get some momentum in the early stages of the competition,” said Mapoe, referring to the regular changing of the man inside him.
“They’re two quite different players... they’re good players, and you have to make the best of it whoever the coach puts there.”
Last week against the Sunwolves, Janse van Rensburg played on the right wing, prompting Mapoe to say: “He’s one of the best ball-carriers and it’s good when we have all three (Janse van Rensburg, himself and Vorster) on the field.”
Regarding his own personal form this year, and his aspirations of adding to his 12 Springbok caps, Mapoe said he would never be happy with what he’s putting out on the field.
“There is always room for improvement. I believe I can get better. My focus is only on the Lions and Super Rugby right now. I know that if I play well for the Lions, I’ll be rewarded again with national colours, but that will really be a bonus.”
So, what’s the plan then for the Jaguares?
“Well, we never go out to try and score 50 points on the day, or to get big winning margins. Our goal always is to stick to our processes and to play rugby, to score as many tries as we can. This week that goal is the same... to score as many tries as we can, and the rest will look after itself.”