Lions can’t wait to turn up the heat ... and the altitude against Zebre

The Johannesburg-based Lions will face Italian side Zebre in a scorching Ellis Park in this weekend’s United Rugby Championship action

The Johannesburg-based Lions will face Italian side Zebre in a scorching Ellis Park in this weekend’s United Rugby Championship action. Photo: Luca Sighinolfi/INPHO/Shutterstock via BackpagePix

Published Nov 22, 2023


It will be a scorching 31°C when the Lions and Zebre run out for their United Rugby Championship game in Johannesburg on Saturday afternoon and the home team intends to run the Italians off the park.

It will be a heady mix of altitude and heat for an Italian side coming out of early winter in Europe and while they will dread the conditions, the Lions will love the sunny skies.

The Lions have just spent a month in the rain, wind and cold, and while they say they enjoyed the touring far more than seems to have been the case with the Bulls, assistant coach Ricardo Loubscher said it is time for the Lions to cut loose.

Earlier this week, Bulls coach Jake said that the reason South Africa joined the URC was to get away from the four-week tours of Super Rugby, and yet four-week tours are the norm once more.

Loubscher was asked to comment on this. “We love the touring,” he said. “If you look at our past, we are almost better off playing away from home.

“On this tour, we got tighter and we showed a lot of fight — every game went down to the last minute and we could have won more than we did.

“But yes, it is good to be home and in the conditions that favour how we ideally want to play.

“You have to have two ways of playing in the URC, a wet weather game for the north and a faster game for home.

“We want to get the ball to the edges as much as possible, we want the wings to get the ball. We want to run at teams but you can’t do that if the conditions do not allow it.”

One such wing is Richard Kriel, the younger brother of Bulls star David. Richard sat alongside Loubscher at the Lions’ media conference and said he relishes playing against his former team from Parma on Saturday.

In the last URC, Kriel scored two tries in 11 appearances for Zebre during their winless season and has returned to South Africa to play for the Lions.

“I can’t wait to see some of the boys again. We had some good times last year. I will go and see some of the boys for a coffee during the weekend and hopefully it will be a nice game this weekend,” Kriel said.

“They are playing some seriously good rugby now. They beat the Sharks and drew with Cardiff. If you give them a sniff, they will come for you.

“They are passionate and love their rugby. We mustn’t underestimate them but if we do what we know we can do, we can take them.

“We had to play in a certain way overseas. That suited the forwards, not us outside backs but now the sun is shining and it is time for us to show what we can do with the ball in play.”

Kriel scored for the Lions in their narrow loss to Ulster in Belfast and he says he loved the tour.

“It was my first four-week tour. When I was at Zebre, we used to just go over on the Friday, play on Saturday, and come back. So I enjoyed the four weeks.

“We got a lot closer, the whole team. We had a few good team dinners. For me, it was a great experience and I enjoyed it.”

Upon returning to South Africa from Italy, Richard says he is once more sharing an apartment with his brother in Pretoria.

“Me and my boet, we still live together. We are professional, so we don’t share each other’s plays or anything like that. We still live together in Pretoria and life is good.

“I believe my brother is the better player between us. I can’t see a team where he’s not picked.

“He’s in great form at the moment. We do share tips and talk about rugby, like what we would do in a certain game situation.”

Kick-off is at 2.55pm.

IOL Sport