Morgan Bolton looks at five talking points ahead of an important match for the Lions that will hopefully get their season back on track.
AFTER a tough fortnight due to a Covid-19 cluster at the Lions, the team will finally run out in their first home game of the Super Rugby Unlocked season against the Tafel Lager Griquas on Friday evening (7pm kick-off).
Griquas have statistically the worst scrum in the competition, while the Lions are starting to assert their dominance at that particular set-piece.
In spite of this, coach Ivan van Rooyen was quick to point out that the black and white nature of the numbers are not a rock solid indication that his team will have the upper hand at scrum-time.
“The set-piece in this competition is either going to give you a platform to play off or take away the opportunity for your opposition to play off,” said the coach.
“So it is a way you can really apply pressure … We are excited about (tonight), set-piece wise. Statistics are dangerous, if you look at it there are one or two scrums where the Griquas did stand up to the man.”
Even so, you’d have to back Carlu Sadie, Jaco Visagie and Sti Sithole to have the upper hand in that department when they pack down against Griquas.
Can Lions finish it off?
The one department that the Lions have battled with is converting their territorial pressure into scoring opportunities. The Joburgers have scored only three tries despite all their positive endeavour.
Against Griquas, who have leaked six tries, the Lions’ potent and talented backline – master tactician captain Elton Jantjies, the X-factor of Stean Pienaar, Gianni Lombard and Wandisile Simelane, the experience of Courtnall Skosan and Dan Kriel, and the revelation that has been Morné van der Bergh – have the opportunity to stretch the legs and spread their wings as they take on the gainline and make a break for the tryline.
Maul, maul, maul
And speaking of taking their chances, another aspect of the Lions game that has been lacking, is their mauling. Against the Stormers and Sharks their movement was stifled whenever they clumped together to form a maul, especially off a shaky line-out.
Getting that system right could go a long way to driving over the whitewash and racking up a penalty or two.
Bench is not shabby
The Covid-19 cluster, now under control at Doornfontein, has hampered the preparation of the Lions, despite what the coaching team and players might say.
Eleven players have been withdrawn, self-isolated, and a handful have now returned to the team.
Even so, due to the depth that the Lions enjoy, they are fielding a powerful starting XV and their bench is also jam-packed with experienced players, such as PJ Botha and Burger Odendaal, new rookies with a point to prove in Junior Springbok Reinhard Nothnagel and Tiaan Swanepoel, and Springboks Ruan Dreyer, Jannie du Plessis, Jaco Kriel and Ross Cronjé.
Due to the cancelled match against the Cheetahs, tonight’s encounter against the Griquas will be the first at Emirates Airline Park for the Lions, and it seems that will play a huge advantage for the home team.
After eight matches in SRU, there have been only two away victories. The Pumas pipped the Griquas 27-21, while last week the Pumas lost to the Stormers 42-37 in dubious fashion.
Despite there being no fans to spur on the home team, it seems that the old adage that winning at home is the first step to becoming contenders remains true.