Johannesburg — “We will have to press the reset button and work on all aspects of our game again,” was Jaque Fourie’s frank assessment after the Emirates Lions finished up their final game of an arduous European tour on Saturday night in Galway.
Fourie, speaking after the Joburgers slumped to a 43-24 loss to Connacht in a United Rugby Championship (URC) clash, will surely – much like his players – be relieved that they are on their way back to South Africa. It was a tough schedule for the Lions where they lost three of their four games in harsh conditions and with a squad limping along without some key players injured.
Previously, before they departed for Europe, they had also copped a beating from the Sharks and Stormers and will now have to lift themselves from five defeats in six games in all competitions. As pointed out by the team’s defence coach, the Lions can enjoy a brief window to reassess their game, take a break and refocus themselves ahead of their next match against the Sharks at Emirates Airline Park in mid-February.
The Lions have arguably lost a bit of their spark and cohesion during this tour. Although they have battled hard in all their matches against Munster, Stade Francais, the Dragons – their lone victory – and most recently Connacht, they’ve capitulated far too easily, especially in their second half performances.
“Connacht played really well,” said Fourie.
“They kept the ball really nicely and their skill level is really, really high. If you give them time and space to run at you, then you are going to chase your tail all night, and that is what we did.
We didn’t play in the right areas of the field where they did … We led quite early 10-8 but when they got rolling, they looked really good with the ball in hand. If you give them time and space behind you, they are a tough team to stop.”
“The guys will be happy to go back home now,” Fourie added, “press the reset button and then we’ve got four or five games at home again that we need to win if we want to be contenders in the Top 8.
The Lions are currently 12th in the URC standings, and could descend further down the log depending on the results between Zebre and Ospreys played on Sunday afternoon. The next batch of matches, therefore, leave very little wiggle room to manoeuvre if they are to qualify for the play-offs.
Indeed, they can all be considered must-wins if the Doornfontein-based players are to participate in the quarter-finals.
Other than the Sharks, they will also face Glasgow at home, and then play the Bulls at Loftus before travelling to Italy to take on Benetton. They will finish their URC season at home with games against the mighty Leinster and then Zebre.
In between all that, they also have the small matter of hosting Racing 92 in an EPCR Challenge Cup Round of 16 clash, which might become their priority after the latest set-back.