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Saturday, April 1, 2023

We lacked experience on tour, says Willem Alberts as Lions return home

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Johannesburg — You’d have to travel back to 2007 to log the professional debut of Willem Alberts and based on recent outings, the now 38-year-old still has a bit more mileage to expend on the rugby field.

The former Springbok loose-forward might have moved into the second-row for the Lions this season, but the trademark runs remain, while the crunching tackles that earned him the nickname of the Bone Collector, still notches up a victim or two.

Alberts is in the twilight of his career and there is no illusion about that. So, while he recently enjoyed playing all four matches for the Joburgers during their now completed tour of Europe, he has a full appreciation of the facts.

“Personally, touring for four weeks and playing was awesome.

“My body is feeling good and it was great to be on tour. You never know when it is your last tour, so you must always tour like it is your last.

“We had a lot of fun off the field and I tried to play hard. Although all the results did not go our way, it was overall a good tour.”

Alberts must recent match was this past weekend in the 43-24 United Rugby Championship (URC) loss to Connacht in Galway, but the burly No 4 also played in the EPCR Challenge Cup victory over the Dragons and the previous loss to Stade Francais in Paris. Before that, he sat on the bench during the first tour match against Munster in the URC and came on for the final 35 minutes during that 33-3 loss.

Despite a record of three losses on this tour, Alberts insists that the Lions will glean valuable lessons from their travels and travails.

“We didn’t have enough experience on tour,” Alberts said.

“There are still a lot of young guys and the players and coaching staff are still new to the European conditions. It is something to learn from. We hope to be better next time.

“The biggest lesson we can take is that you must be able to play good rugby week after week; you must be able to adapt to the conditions in both training and when playing. We were training on synthetic pitches and playing on them, so we must adapt to that better.”

That ability to adapt and learn has yet to be mastered. Although the Lions have improved in recent weeks, they still commit the same errors – a fact that opposing teams have become wise to. Much like in the Munster game, Connacht used that knowledge to expose the fragile under-belly of the tourists.

“The weather wasn’t that bad, so it made for a good game of rugby,” Alberts said of the Connacht game.

“There was a bit of speed in the game. Obviously, we were expecting a fast game from them.

“They run very good lines, and they play with speed because they feel like they are smaller than the South African teams. They use that to their advantage by playing quicker.

“They did their homework on us and they played in the right areas of the field. They kept the ball better than us and that put us under pressure.”

Albert, and his teammates, will have returned to the country by Tuesday, and will now enjoy the rest of the week off as the Six Nations takes centre stage in Europe. They have no match commitments this weekend and will resume training next week Monday.

Their next United Rugby Championship clash is against the Sharks at Emirates Airline Park in mid-February.


IOL Sport

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