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Monday, January 30, 2023

We’ve been frantic at home, says Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen after 10-try thriller at Ellis Park

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Johannesburg — The Lions and Ulster served up arguably one of the games of the season on Saturday as they rocked and rolled in a rollicking, rip-roaring, snorter of an encounter that oscillated between the engaging and the sublime.

In all, 10 tries were scored as the powerful Irish outfit pipped their hosts 39-37 at Ellis Park. It immediately halted the momentum of the Lions, who have now lost both their games at home; while further cementing Ulster as one of the favourites to win the United Rugby Championship.

Ulster showed all of their class and composure befitting their station, specifically before and after halftime as they took advantage of a numerical advantage after Henco van Wyk was sanctioned for cynical play, wrapping up the match during that period.

The Lions, meanwhile, fought bravely in the closing moments of the match to overturn the deficit, scoring some truly spectacular tries in the process, but then fumbled that initiative with some sloppy play in the dying minutes of the clash. They will rue their chances – both teams were noticeably exhausted as the match came to a close – due to the blistering heat beating down on Johannesburg, but the Lions seemed to finish the stronger of the two sides.

“That 20 minutes probably summed up that frustration,” Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen said of the halftime slip-up.

“I think we worked really hard and showed character to eventually come back, but we gave it away too easily. We made one or two crucial errors – and we just felt that we gave it to them … we weren’t clinical.”

“The last lineout we felt we still had an opportunity, and to miss that is obviously frustrating. We had glimpses of what we can do against a very good Ulster team.”

At 36-18, and 30-odd minutes left on the clock, the Lions found themselves chasing the game. There was certainly a degree of desperation that crept into their game from thereon in. It resulted in some awe-inspiring attacking play, but also a frenzy-induced approach.

On reflection after the game, Van Rooyen admitted that it was a bit of a concern for the management team.

“We have been a little bit frantic at home,” Van Rooyen said.

“Overseas, we were a little bit calmer and we had to build the innings, otherwise we would not have been in the contest. Similar to when we played the Bulls, on (Saturday) we almost wanted to overpower, over squeeze from minute one, instead of just gradually building an innings.

“I think that will be a part of the review process from our side: How to really apply pressure that eventually helps in minute 60 or 70 when the dam does break.

“Everyone is helter-skelter instead of just ‘okay, this is the plan; everyone has got it; calm down.’ Overseas, that was probably one of our strong points: Just take a step back, take a deep breath and then we can go again.”

In spite of the loss, there were a handful of players who continued to show some impressive form, chief among them Francke Horn. The No 8 scored two tries during the match, and galloped to 151m, beating three defenders and making one clean break.

Marius Louw was also solid, and despite his misdemeanour, Van Wyk had a workman-like outing. Ruan Venter once again showed what a devastating runner he is, brutalising Ulster No 5 Sam Carter on one occasion.

The Lions now shift their attention to Glasgow Warriors – who were thumped 40-12 by the Sharks – on Saturday at Ellis Park, hoping to bounce back against the Scottish team. Ulster, meanwhile, continue their tour of South Africa with a mouth-watering clash against the Sharks this weekend.



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