JOHANNESBURG – Lions captain Warren Whiteley said on Sunday that his team were almost desperate to register a win in Buenos Aires after three straight defeats from 2016-2018.
Before Saturday, the Lions had not managed to beat the Jaguares on their own field, losing three matches in a row, ever since the Argentine side joined Super Rugby in 2016.
But that statistic changed on Saturday when Whiteley and his charges pulled off a surprise and gutsy win in Buenos Aires, running out 25-16 winners. It was just the start the three-time runners-up would have hoped for, with back-to-back games to come against fellow South African teams, the Stormers, away this weekend, and the Bulls, at Ellis Park, at the start of March.
“It was our mission to go there and win,” said a relieved and happy Whiteley after his side’s victory. “It was our best performance in Buenos Aires. I’m so grateful for the win, for the attitude and resilience shown by the players. There were six debutants in our team; I’m very proud.”
There would have been some questions around the new-look Lions team missing key players such as Ruan Dreyer, Jacques van Rooyen, Jaco Kriel, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Franco Mostert, who left during or after last season’s run to the final, but the players coming into the side all stood up and delivered.
Two of the heroes of Saturday were new tighthead prop from the Cape, 21-year-old Carlu Sadie, and flank Marnus Schoeman, who came into the side in place of the injured Kwagga Smith, who withdrew from the team days before Saturday’s match because of an injury. Schoeman, who has become something of a Lions supersub in recent times, scored three tries and played a massive role in the visitors winning first up.
“We knew this game would be won in the forwards and that it would be physical,” said Whiteley, “but we stood up, with the set-pieces doing well. Our scrum was good, we were good at the breakdowns, winning crucial turn-overs, and defensively we were strong.”
The only area of concern to Whiteley was the lineouts, but he said those would be sorted out this week ahead of the team’s trip to Cape Town.
“Overall, I’m so happy with the performance. This is a place where we have struggled in the last few years, but we also know there is a long way to go in this competition. The Super Rugby title isn’t won in February,” he said.
“We’ll keep focusing on what we have done well over the last few years, what has worked for us, and hopefully play it moment for moment. It’s nice to start with a win in Argentina.”
The Lions are due back in SA on Monday and Whiteley said it would be crucial for his charges to take some time to recover well before turning their attention to the Stormers.@jacq_west