Johannesburg – Scrum coach Julian Redelinghuys and loose-head prop Sti Sithole of the Emirates Lions spoke on Tuesday to the media with a welcoming smile, a hearty laugh and joke or two ribbing each other and the Zoom party involved, but come Friday one can be assured that the Joburgers’ scrum will be roaring to go.
The set-piece has been one of the stand-out areas where the Lions have dominated and exerted a measure of control in their three United Rugby Championship matches so far, and on Friday they will come up against their sternest test yet when they face Ulster in Belfast (kick-off 8.35pm).
So far, the Lions have won all of their 19 scrums in the tournament. Ulster, meanwhile, have lost only two and have won 93% of their scrums this season, so this weekend’s battle is shaping up to be a titanic one.
“The scrum has improved over the last couple of weeks,” said Redelinghuys proudly, “not to say that we are happy and satisfied, as we are still looking for continues improvement.
“What these European teams are doing very well, even though they are under pressure, is they get the ball out really quickly. You’ve seen the eighthman grabbing the ball underneath the props’ legs, even though they are going backwards.
“We will still look to put pressure on their ball, just to create a little bit of instability and to create a disrupted platform. On our ball, what we are doing well, we are obviously in control of keeping the ball in, and then the scrum can go long.”
As pointed out by the former Springbok prop, the Belfast-based team also enjoy a tussle up-front, Redelinghuys noting that: “I had a look at Ulster’s game, and I think they scrummed for seven minutes – they just kept going for the scrum …
“We are looking for big challenges because that is the only way we are going to improve … It’s going to be a lekker opposition to test ourselves against. I back our pack and the collective.”
Unlike last weekend against Edinburgh, when the Lions played on a 4G pitch, Ravenhill Stadium is a return to the natural stuff, a fact that well-please Sithole, who decreed unapologetically that “definitely, natural grass,” was his preferred surface to play on.
“The biggest difference (between a synthetic and grass pitch) is probably the load on your calves,” he explained.
“You have to use slightly shorter studs, because they don’t dig in as deep on an artificial pitch. I think if everything stays as normal, if we stick to our processes as normal, we will scrum as normal, no matter what surface it is.”
The Lions will be without lock Pieter Jansen van Vuren on Friday, but despite his injury to his MCL, they should have the backup in Reinhard Nothnagel, Wilhelm van der Sluys or Emmanuel Tshituka to take the forwards battle to Ulster.
There is no doubt it is going to be serious business.