Lions’ Louw aiming high for busy away schedule

Lions captain Marius Louw will hope to continue to lead from the front next week when the Joburgers depart for Europe. | Backpagepix

Lions captain Marius Louw will hope to continue to lead from the front next week when the Joburgers depart for Europe. | Backpagepix

Published Mar 12, 2024


Lions captain Marius Louw will hope to continue to lead from the front next week when the Joburgers depart for Europe. | Backpagepix

Morgan Bolton

The current stop-start nature of the South African rugby season might be frustrating for supporters, but Marius Louw was far more pragmatic regarding the on-off nature of 2024 thus far.

The Lions have played only six matches over a 12 week period so far, winning two and losing the rest, across both the United Rugby Championship (URC) and EPCR Challenge Cup. Bookended by wins over the Sharks, the Joburgers also suffered a four-match losing streak in-between to Montpellier and the Ospreys in the Challenge Cup, and back-to-back defeats to the Bulls.

Louw and Co will have to wait another fortnight before they play their next match – against Connacht – with games thereafter coming thick and fast.

Skipper Louw – ever growing into his leadership skills and role – admitted to a degree of annoyance at the schedule but added that perhaps the lack of on-field action has helped the Lions and will ensure a sharper team in the weeks to come.

Said Louw, exclusively to Independent Newspapers: “We didn’t have such a great streak (earlier this year) but then we had some time to work on the little things. For us, I think, it has worked out well.

“We’ve been able to fix a few things. Yes, it is frustrating not to play week in and week out but towards the end of the season we will have that opportunity again.

“For now, it is good to reflect on the previous games and how we can get better. For some guys, they can rest their bodies and then make sure we are ready for what is to come.”

Bundee Aki of Ireland has been smashing his way through the Six Nations. | EPA

The Lions have yet to beat Connacht. Last season they lost 43-24 in Galway and the game before that, fluffed their chances at Ellis Park, losing 33-30. The Irish franchise will have experienced minimal disruptions due to the Six Nations, with only prop Finlay Bealham and centre Bundee Aki currently doing national duty with Ireland.

Being mentally and physically prepared for the trip, therefore, will be important as match fitness and form suffer somewhat from the lack of consistent game time.

“We have to make sure that we stick to our processes,” Louw said.

“We’ve done the same thing – last week and this week, regardless of whether we are playing or not – to stay mentally focused. We are doing our preparations and what we want to focus on as a team … We’ve built on that over the past few days.

“Travelling to Galway is definitely a challenge,” the 25-year-old added. “The weather is cold but what a great place with great people … It is an opportunity for us.”

The Lions will admit to themselves that they will need to either win in Galway, or a week later against the Ospreys, to foster their URC play-off hopes. The Joburgers are 11th in the standings, three points outside the top eight.

Louw remained steadfast in his conviction that the Lions have the tools to do just that.

“Depending on the weather,” the inside-centre explained, “when you play in Durban you get that humidity and in the previous game we played in the wet, so that has prepared us for what is to come.

“I think we have the ability to play a kicking game, while our forwards are conditioned to scrum and maul. Our set pieces have been functioning, so whether it be making the game slow or picking the tempo up, it can be on our terms. Regardless of what it is, we will be prepared for it.”

The Lions finish the tour against Benetton in the round of 16 of the Challenge Cup early next month, where victory could extend their stay in Europe. That match, however, remains a problem for another day.

“We have to focus on the URC at the moment for the next two games. The Challenge Cup is obviously something you want to win.

“It will be tough playing Benetton at home. We were there in the URC and we fell short and it is definitely something that we will have and want to rectify,” he concluded.