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Lions hoping to build on maul and scrum dominance to get off the mark in URC

Prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye in action for the Lions

FILE - Prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye in action for the Lions. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Published Nov 9, 2023


Victory has so far eluded the Lions in the United Rugby Championship – frustratingly so – but there can be no doubt that the Joburgers are building a noteworthy foundation to launch themselves towards an eventual triumph.

Their set-pieces have been rock solid thus far, despite losing narrowly to the Stormers, Edinburgh and most recently Benetton.

Indeed, as they head towards their URC fourth-round encounter against Scarlets on Saturday, they enjoy a 96% success rate in the lineouts, having lost only two of 47.

At scrum time, they are yet to lose when packing down, winning all 16 of their inputs.

In their first three games, they have also won six tightheads and five penalties. Accordingly, they are rated second and first in the tournament in each department.

Converting that dominance into something substantial after the fact, however, is where the Lions have stumbled due to repeated inaccuracies. The time has come, therefore, to make good on the one area that has not faltered, grinding out a victory at all costs, starting against the Welsh outfit this weekend.

Earlier this week, Lions scrum coach Julian Redelinghuys and prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye alluded to as much.

“Us as South Africans,” said former Springbok prop Redelinghuys, “if you have a look at the World

Cup, if you look at whatever team we play against, we do pride ourselves come scrum time, come maul time, come physicality time.

“(Scarlets) will be no different than any other game, but it is definitely an area where we look to assert dominance. Asen, do you agree?”

“One hundred percent,” Ntlabakanye said, nodding in agreement. Saturday’s match will see the Lions return to a 4G pitch, which – as both Redelinghuys and Ntlabakanye inferred – should aid the Lions’ cause more than their hosts in the scrums.

Said Ntlabakanye: “It’s not a big difference, but rather it is about us adjusting to the different conditions and pitches.

“Last week, as we saw in Italy, it was quite similar to what we have in South Africa. This week it will be different. The pack that we are, we like to focus on ourselves and our systems …

“These pitches don’t give in as much. To be (on the) safe side, as a tighthead prop, I’ll be using the 21mm (studs).”

“On these synthetic pitches,” interjected Redelinghuys, “the thinner studs go in better, whereas in the grass pitches (you) need a thicker stud.”

Due to the injuries to Morgan Naude and Darrien-Lane Landsberg, keeping the momentum going at the set-pieces will present a new set of challenges. It will surely see a new tight five in the starting XV.

“It is heartsore for us to lose Morgan,” Redelinghuys said in Afrikaans.

“It is the second time that he has started and then gotten injured. Darrien, who was our No 5 lock, ran the line-outs like a champion, and he is now also injured.

“They are crucial positions, especially in the tight five. The guys that are coming in know that rugby is a game of opportunities. They get a chance.

“JP Smith is an experienced player. Ruhan Straeuli is a versatile player. It is their responsibility to make the step up. With this competition being so long, it takes a squad to complete,” he concluded.

Kick-off is at 7.15pm.

IOL Sport