JOHANNESBURG – Lions boss Swys de Bruin says his team will have to raise their intensity if they are to get the better of the Waratahs when the teams meet in a Super Rugby semi-final at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The Lions qualified for their third straight last-four clash, at home, on Saturday when they ran in four tries to two to beat the Jaguares 40-23 in their quarter-final.
The Tahs, from Sydney, shocked the Highlanders with a come-from-behind win to book their place in the semis.
The other semi-final will see the defending champions, the Crusaders, host the Hurricanes, champions from 2016.
The Lions dominated most areas against the Jaguares, going into a 24-9 lead at half-time on Saturday, but then gave away two converted tries to lead by just four points around the hour mark. The Lions though finished strongly to run out comfortable winners; a performance De Bruin said was extremely satisfying with the Waratahs up next.
“It was an all-over performance, and I am very pleased,” he said. “Trust me, this is a side the Springboks will play against later on; they’re a tough side, with international players, and they came at us from the word ‘go’.
“Their back three are very dangerous ... and we’re going to face similar players this weekend in the Waratahs team. I thought our defence was excellent against the Jaguares; we stopped their runners on most occasions and this weekend it’ll again be a matter of killing their runners’ space and not give them enough time to counter-attack.
“We’re also going to have to up the tempo because against the Jaguares I thought the pace was slow at times.”
The Lions will this weekend come up against a number of equally dangerous runners in the Tahs team as they faced last Saturday; among them Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau, Taqele Naiyarovoro and Bernard Foley.
“I thought at stages our defence was great (against the Jaguares), so well done to the players and hats off to them,” said De Bruin, who is expecting a similarly challenging defensive effort against the Tahs.
“They’re a bit different to the Jaguares ... they attack more from edge to edge, and they kick more than the Jags. They’ve also got a lot of international players with cool heads.
“They’re a team that’s been right up there this season and have also scored a lot of tries ... 74 in fact, just three less than us in the regular season. They know how to find the tryline ... but with the defensive effort I saw from my guys against the Jags, I’m happy.”
Captain Warren Whiteley said the Tahs would pose a few different challenges to those the Lions faced from the Jaguares. “They’re completely different; tactically they play a smart game,” said the Lions leader.
“The Waratahs certainly kick more, and try put the outside backs under pressure with the high ball, and Folau chasing. We’ll expect some kicks from their No 9, there will be contestables, and they’ll maybe try and slow the game down.
“We know how dangerous they are on the front foot, with Beale taking flat ball. But they’re also direct, with some big ball-carriers; they’re strong at the set-piece and at the breakdowns. They’re going to come here all guns blazing, with nothing to lose. We know that if they’re on, they can produce quality rugby.”
De Bruin said he was reading nothing into the result of the last meeting between the teams - a stunning and quite extraordinary 29-0 win by the Lions in Sydney on April 20. “It was the perfect game for us that day; everything went our way, including the bounce of the ball. They’ll want to come and rectify what went wrong for them.”
Saturday’s semi-final kicks off at 3pm.