There is now a fine mix of young and old in the Lions team, the exuberance of youth tempered by the wisdom of long compiled experience.
JOHANNESBURG – It was not the spectacle that we all hoped for, but in the end supporters and pundits alike witnessed a powerful Xerox Lions outfit steamroll a young Sharks team. Here we look at some of the features of the Carling Currie Cup encounter at Emirates Airline Park this past Saturday that stood out.
1 The seniors aren’t old has beens
All Lions’ supporters should be pleased as punch after the showing of their veterans this past weekend. Man of the Match Willem Alberts put in a huge shift, the lock forward living up to his moniker of the “Bone Collector” with crunching tackles that drove the Sharks back. So too did Jaco Kriel have an industrious match, working in the dark corners of the ruck to swing the game into the favour of the Lions.
Marvin Orie, still a young gun compared to his Springbok counterparts but now a senior in the squad, was a mean machine, almost too much so, in his play and controlled the line-outs with aplomb. Elton Jantjies has really stepped up as captain, aided but the wise heads around him and his calmness to the backline has been a boon to his team. There is now a fine mix of young and old, the exuberance of youth tempered by the wisdom of long compiled experience.
2 Bosch needs more time
There is no argument here that Curwin Bosch is a special player who has a long, Springbok-bound future ahead of him, but the 22-year-old still needs to refine his game, bank on his skills, trust his talents and build on his confidence. The Sharks flyhalf is the type of player that can win games single-handedly, and sure it was tough for him on Saturday due to the fact that his pack was backtracking more often than not, but if he can apply all his expertise, he can provide the frontfoot ball that he team will desperately need going forward.
This Sharks team is a young one – the average age is only 23 – but it will be exciting to see how he fares once he has a group of forwards that are equal to him. The Springbok setup could provide such a chance, so although he did not have the best of games this past weekend, he should still be given a chance at Test level.
3 In-form push
There is no doubt that the Lions are the in-form team in the Currie Cup at the moment. They are unbeaten in the competition, and have won four games on the trot, beating the Griquas in trying conditions, grinding out a win against the Western Province, blowing the Cheetahs away, and now subduing the Sharks.
They have shown a tactical nuisance in each and every one of those games, playing tight when required, expanding in other instances. Credit must be given to the coaching staff – Ivan van Rooyen first in line – in this regard who have gotten their tactics spot on, and by extension the players who have stuck to the gameplan, showing an admirable level of discipline in doing so.
4 Defence! Defence! Defence!
Their forward dominance notwithstanding, the other aspect of the Joburgers play that was excellent was their defence. Earlier this year it was a major concern, now it is one of their strengths. The Lions shut out the Sharks completely, even on the odd occasion when the Durbanites did threaten their line. They gang tackled the big ball-carriers and constantly drove the Sharks back.
As the cliche goes, defence wins matches – it also wins championships – and if the Lions keep the faith in their defensive systems, they will be very hard to break down. They have now conceded the least amount of tries in the Currie Cup, another notch in their arrow as they build towards the play-offs.
5 The numbers are not yet in the Lions’ favour
By beating the Sharks, the Lions leapfrogged both them and the WP into second spot on the log. The Lions have two games remaining – a massive encounter this coming weekend against the Blue Bulls and then a final match against the unpredictable Pumas, both away. They also played a game more than all those sides, including the Free State Cheetahs.
The top four race is still well and truly on, and if the Lions have semi-final homeground advantage ambitions, then they will in all probability have to win both their remaining games. At maximum they gave 10 points in hand, while the rest have 15, and all five teams are still in play to make the play-offs, with the Pumas also mathematically in the mix.
Saturday: WP vs Griquas; Bulls vs Lions
Sunday: Cheetahs vs Sharks
January 2: Pumas vs Lions; Sharks vs Griquas; Cheetahs vs WP
January 8: Pumas vs Bulls
January 9: Griquas vs Cheetahs; WP vs Sharks
Bulls (10 games) 35 points
Lions (10 games) 29 points
Sharks (9 games) 28 points
Western Province (9 games) 26 points
Cheetahs (9 games) 21 points
Pumas (10 games) 12 points
Griquas (9 games) 7 points