Johannesburg - The Lions might be battling to rediscover that winning feeling, but that is not true for tighthead prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye, who is clocking positive outings for his team amongst the current slump.
The injury to Ruan Dreyer against Dragons in the opening EPCR Challenge Cup weekend in December last year, opened the way for Ntlabakanye to receive more gametime. The 23-year-old has taken his opportunity with both hands and has improved with eavey game that he has played since.
Against Munster, in a 33-3 losing effort, he was arguably the Lions’ best player, especially on defence where he made a whopping 18 tackles. His off the ball workrate was impressive as the burly prop shifted himself around the field with intent.
Along with the pack, he transferred a mighty amount of pressure onto the Irish club's forwards at the scrums, wrestling away supremacy in that department - one of the few areas the Lions' had the upperhand this past weekend.
Ntlabakanye will be expected to put in a similar shift this weekend when the Joburgers attempt to arrest a three-match losing streak against Stade Francais in Paris. The prop, however, is full of positive vibes; and will hope his personal momentum can inspire his teammates.
“The opportunity for me has been great,” Ntlabakanye said.
“I think we have a great system here at the Lions and we are truly blessed with tighthead props, if you look at the likes of Ruan Dreyer, Ruan Smith, myself and the guys under me.
“I think it was very good (his outing against Munster). I gave myself confidence. I really felt good this (past) weekend and, hopefully, I can carry over that performance to this weekend again.”
The Challenge Cup encounter this weekend, as was the case with the clash against Munster, will be played on the artificial pitch - this time at Stade Jean-Bouin - and that brings with it a different set of rules and playing style than on the natural stuff.
Said Ntlabakanye: “You have to change things up a little bit.
“You don’t get the same grip as you do on normal grass, so you do have to adapt your game ... I think this weekend we will adapt quicker than what we did against Munster.
"We can't control what Stade Francais will bring on the weekend. It is a different competition in a way but our preparations stay the same. We don’t change anything from our side.
“The conditions are pretty similar,” he continued.
“Their (Stade Francais') playing style is slightly different. The French are a bit more physical, a bit more around the rucks.
“With the UK sides there is a bit more flair and they throw the ball around a bit more. It is a different challenge but it is something that we can all handle.”
The Lions are currently second in Pool B of the Challenge Cup with eight points, while the Pink Army have four points, and sit in seventh. The hosts are expected to field a much stronger team for the clash on Saturday (kick-off 3pm), so harvesting any points from the match will be the Lions main objective.
The team will enjoy the sights and sounds of Paris on Wednesday, before returning to training on Thursday. They will name their matchday 23 on Friday.