If the Lions are to progress to the final of the Currie Cup, they will have to finish off their attacking moves when they face the Blue Bulls on Saturday.
JOHANNESBURG – TRY. Try. Try …
If the Lions are to progress to the final of the Carling Currie Cup, they will have to finish off their attacking play by crashing, mauling, diving and scoring tries when they face the Blue Bulls on Saturday in their semi-final (Loftus Versfeld, 2pm).
There can be no argument that coach Ivan van Rooyen’s team were the form side during the Currie Cup, the Johannesburg-based outfit winning five of their six matches during the second half of the season.
But perhaps the one facet of their play that frustrated both management and fans alike was their inability to make use of all their attacking endeavour and score the big points behind the tryline.
The Lions scored a healthy 14 tries but were only the fifth best side. The Pumas (19 tries), Sharks (18), Western Province and Free State Cheetahs (both 15) scored more tries than the Lions, although on the flip side, the Joburgers also conceded the second least (10).
It was especially noticeable in the game against the Bulls recently, which the Lions lost 22-15, when they scored all their points from the boot of Tiaan Swanepoel.
The visitors to Loftus failed to build any pressure on their hosts by threatening the tryline and perhaps the most egregious of errors came late in the match when they fumbled an opportunity to draw the encounter by fluffing an attacking line-out on the Bulls’ tryline.
This weekend they can ill-afford any such slip-ups if they are to beat the Bulls for the first time this season, and their attacking play will have to be at its very best to overcome a determined Bulls team that has surprisingly leaked more tries than they scored.
There has been a definite move away from the running rugby that has defined the Lions’ play for several years now, and coach Van Rooyen has tried to mix and match his gameplan to open up a larger array of attacking possibilities for the team.
The Lions have shown an ability to out muscle the opposition, as in victories over the Sharks and WP, but also play a more expansive game as witnessed when they outplayed the Cheetahs.
The problem, it seems, has come when merging the two ideas into a cohesive 80-minute performance, as was the case in their narrow win over the Pumas.
Although they claimed the required victories to make the play-offs, it has perhaps been at the expense of flair and unpredictability, the forward battles taking centre stage instead, and they have failed to properly unleash a backline brimming with talent, pace and X-factor.
On Monday night, in an interview on SuperRugby, Van Rooyen stated that the team’s strategy for the semi-final was yet to be determined.
“Our gameplan will rely on the conditions,” he said.
“We had a tough chat after the loss to the Bulls … Knockout games are characterised by one or two big moments, and I believe that we can place more pressure on the Bulls defensively, or through our kicking game and our attack.
“We are working really hard on the players’ decision-making regarding how we want them to apply that pressure, and if the conditions are in our favour, then I think we will have a go.”
And a go they must have – a final is on the line and reaching that promised land would be just reward for the growth that the coaching team and the players have shown in recent weeks.
They must find the dangerous speed of play that has seen them make all the semifinals of the last 10 years, and merge it with their new-found physicality up front.