Ivan van Rooyen heaps praise on Lions troops after stunning win over Sharks

Ivan van Rooyen, Lions coach during a match

Ivan van Rooyen, Lions coach, said although he wasn't too happy with how they went in the first half against the Sharks in the URC, the way they turned things around shows what the team is about. Picture: Tom Maher/INPHO/Shutterstock

Published Jan 8, 2024


The Lions' first victory since 2017 in Durban and a first-ever in the United Rugby Championship (URC) over the Sharks speaks to the belief currently in the group.

A last-gasp driving maul try, converted by flyhalf Sanele Nohamba from a difficult angle, coupled with a late missed penalty by the home side, completed the nail-biting 20-18 victory at Kings Park this past weekend.

It was not a complete performance yet, as they struggled in the first half and trailed 18-3 at the break, but the Lions preached the gospel of unity, maintaining winning momentum and fighting for each other until the final whistle in the lead-up to the match.

They exhibited that on Saturday to claim the famous, but emotional, victory in the Shark Tank in front of almost 20 000 supporters.

Touching distance of top eight

The win takes the Lions within touching distance of the top eight of the URC and they have a match in hand over the other teams. With a top-eight finish at the end of the season comes the reward of knockouts and European Champions Cup rugby next season.

Ivan van Rooyen, Lions head coach, said although he wasn't too happy with how they went in the first forty, the way they turned things around shows what the team is about.

"The talk at halftime was if we could score three, five or seven points, it would put pressure back on the Sharks," Van Rooyen said about what drove their comeback.

"We also spoke about keeping them at zero points in the second half. And hopefully, we can get 16 points. It was a game of two halves in terms of territory. They kept us pinned in our half and kept us under relentless pressure with their attack.

"In the second half, we adapted really well to how we wanted to play, but we did not execute our plan in the first half. They played really well. And in the second half, we played like we wanted to.”

According to Van Rooyen, they did not target the Boks of the Sharks, although his troops managed to negate the dangers, especially from centre Lukhanyo Am and prop Ox Nche in the scrums. It's safe to say young tight head Asenathi Ntlabakanye won his battle with the World Cup-winning Nche, and 22-year-old Henco van Wyk kept Am at bay with some strong defence and good attacking play.

Lock Eben Etzebeth was a menace for the Lions' defence, though, and he won the penalty that could've sealed the game for the Sharks had replacement flyhalf Boeta Chamberlain slotted the difficult attempt for three points.

"They are world-class players and we must give them the respect they deserve. Ox is probably the number one loosehead in the world, Eben is probably the best forward, and Lukhanyo has been for the last eight years probably the best 13.

"So we felt that to give us a chance we had to be collective in the way we play and execute the plan. But this game could've gone two points the other way.”

Changing gears

Van Rooyen confirmed that the URC (and gunning for a top-eight spot) will still be their main target, although they change competitions this week with Challenge Cup rugby against Montpellier coming up.

"If I am honest with you, the immediate focus is the URC and the competition we want to excel in. We got off to a decent start in the EPCR, the next two rounds will probably determine where we are on the log.

"We have a busy January, so that will probably have an influence on which team we are going to take (to France)."