Lions urged to keep it simple in Belfast’s ‘harsh environment’

The Lions team celebrate a tru during their United Rugby Championship game against Benetton. Photo: Luca Sighinolfi/INPHO/Shutterstock via BackpagePix

The Lions team celebrate a tru during their United Rugby Championship game against Benetton. Photo: Luca Sighinolfi/INPHO/Shutterstock via BackpagePix

Published Nov 15, 2023


The Lions have shown that they are able to grind out wins on the road, but they will be keen to prove that last week’s victory was no fluke when they face Ulster in Belfast on Friday night.

The Johannesburg side had agonising losing margins of two, one and five in their first three matches of the United Rugby Championship this season against the Stormers, Edinburgh and Benetton.

But with those last two defeats away from home, they needed to get on the right side of the scoreboard against the Scarlets last week, and they did just that in the 24-23 triumph in Llanelli.

The positive result was just what coach Ivan van Rooyen’s team needed before ending their four-week European trip against a quality side like Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium. Kick-off is at 9.35pm.

“All the games had just a few points in it,” Lions forwards coach Barend Pieterse said from Belfast yesterday, “and we felt that those games could have gone either way.

“The most important thing is that we got points out of those games. If you look at the log now, those four points that we got out of those three games is like an extra win for us.

“We hope so (that the win will give them momentum for the rest of the season) ... that is the plan! The guys are really working hard, and conditions aren’t easy over here – but it’s the same for both teams. We have to train in the wet and go out early in the dark and come back in the dark.

“So, it is the same for both teams, but the effort and off-field work that the guys are doing at the moment will hopefully show in the result this weekend for us.”

The Lions will hope that they can kick on and produce a complete performance against high-riding UIster, who started their campaign with wins over Zebre and the Bulls, before going down to Connacht.

They hit back last weekend with a 21-14 victory over the defending champions Munster, though, and will be hard to beat at Ravenhill, which also boasts a new artificial pitch.

Pieterse, though, is confident that the Lions can be even better against the northern Irish outfit.

It will also be intriguing to see whether head coach Van Rooyen sticks with usual scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba at flyhalf – after he was the player of the match against the Scarlets – or calls on regular No 10 Jordan Hendrikse.

“He (Nohamba) has covered 10 in the past as well. It depends on what game we want to play on the day, and how Ivan sees the team on the day,” the 44-year-old former lock said.

“But in both players (Nohamba and fellow scrumhalf Morné van den Berg), we are lucky that we get something else from each one of them, but he did very well for us this weekend and he gets the ball going.

“So, if we want to play a running game, that is obviously a guy we will go to. But both players have their own strengths.

“The big thing that we spoke about during the past four weeks is just (to show) a little bit more calmness when we get into the scoring zones, and just work rate in general from us.

“It wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be in the first few games, and if you look at the last game, the work rate of every individual ... each guy worked very hard.

“Those were the two points we addressed in this whole competition, and in the last game it just came together for us.

“We need to make sure our basics are good (against Ulster). Most of the guys know the environment we are going into. If you look at the weather outside, it’s cold, it’s raining.

“The stadium will be sold out again and it’s going to be a harsh environment. So, I think everyone is ready for what we can expect, and we just have to keep it basic.

“It doesn’t help against a classy team like Ulster if we try to do funny things – play from our tryline and all those sorts of things. Simplicity and keep it simple is genuinely key for us.”