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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Lions aim to leave clean carcass behind when URC tour concludes

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Johannesburg – Many did not see that coming …

The Emirates Lions could make a clean sweep of their European tour this weekend when they face Edinburgh in their third and final clash abroad in the United Rugby Championship (URC) this year.

The Joburgers made it two from two on tour after they beat Cardiff 31-18 on Friday. Previously, they defeated the Ospreys in Swansea.

So far this season, they have lost only to the Bulls in the opening round of the tournament and are now seventh in the standings on nine points.

They are five points behind early pace-setters Leinster and the Bulls, and find themselves among a cluster of teams that includes Ulster (11 points), the Stormers (10 points) and the Sharks, Benetton and Ospreys all on nine points.

After those two character-building and composed victories – the most recent in tough conditions – the Lions will now have all the confidence they need to travel to Scotland and knock off Edinburgh, too.

The Lions already have a slight advantage as they will have begun preparing for Friday night’s clash on Sunday. Their hosts Edinburgh, in all likelihood, will only do so on Monday or Tuesday, after returning from a defeat on Saturday to the Stormers in Cape Town.

Nevertheless, and despite their two loses in SA, Edinburgh accounted well for themselves and will be a difficult challenge to overcome at home.

Victory on Friday night against Edinburgh, however, could open up exciting possibilities for the Doornfontein-based team. They can look ahead to five home games at Emirates Airline Park thereafter against Ulster, Glasgow, the Stormers, the Dragons and Scarlets.

But before they get ahead of themselves, they they will have to continue to build and improve in key areas this week.

Their defence was pretty solid on Friday night, but Cardiff still stretched them at times, opening them up in the wider channels. Had it not been for some poor decision-making on the part of Cardiff, they could, in all probability, have found themselves further behind in the first half than 13-10.

The Lions missed 12 tackles, and against more clinical teams, they will be made to pay for such indiscretions.

They can, though, be proud of their efforts in that department as it is a vast improvement on last season, and was arguably the reason they beat the Welsh side. Their discipline on defence was also impressive, as they conceded only four penalties in their half.

Their maul defence came under strain at times, and they will no doubt work on that this week, while also making slight tweaks to their attacking maul, which was mostly excellent but arguably lacked the same vigour and penetration in the latter stages of the match.

Mostly, their set-pieces – scrums and line-outs – operated with aplomb and will again be extremely important against Edinburgh. Early forecasts are that the conditions at the DAM Health Stadium will be much the same as those experienced in Cardiff. Heavy rain is predicted, so a forward-dominated clash can be expected.

The Lions, however, showed a willingness to run against Cardiff, especially in the second half when they had the wind on their side, but will have to clean up their handling, which was clumsy at times.

Head coach Ivan van Rooyen also need not tinker too much with his match-day 23. The team that has done the business this past fortnight should run out again on Friday.

The only known injury concern is Edwill van der Merwe, who was concussed in the Cardiff clash.

@FreemanZAR

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