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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

‘We did the talking on the field,’ says Lions’ Ivan van Rooyen after Bulls win

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Cape Town — What a difference a week or two makes in the world of rugby, and in this case, the Lions.

Suddenly the Johannesburg side are up to 11th position on the United Rugby Championship (URC) standings and producing smart, energetic play that is miles away from what they had come up with previously.

Add in reports of player unhappiness and off-field issues on a recent tour, and it looked like things were going all downhill for coach Ivan van Rooyen and his team.

But Saturday’s 29-25 win over the Bulls at Loftus – their first against a South African team after 10 consecutive defeats, and coming after a 35-24 victory over Glasgow Warriors – looks like it is a real turning point for the Lions.

Van Rooyen praised the work-rate and character of his players in the second half in particular, when the Bulls hit back with all their might to lead 25-23 with 18 minutes left, after the Lions had charged into a 20-3 advantage in the first half.

Scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba was the Player of the Match with an incredible display as he scored 24 points via a try, two conversions and five penalties.

“I think the last two weeks did the talking in that regard (about the off-field issues). We’re focusing on rugby and between the four lines – we can control that, and our performance can control what has been written there. Hats off to the players for standing up and fighting like they did the last two weeks,” Van Rooyen said.

“The frustrating thing – and I’ve said it post the Sharks, Stade Francais and Dragons games – is that we felt we played well enough and created enough chances … we just didn’t manage to turn it into points.

“Last week and this week, confidence-wise around that will be huge for us. The ability to score points – and it’s not just threes, but fives or sevens – and to do it with ball-in-hand was the big change in the last two weeks.

“So, in terms of confidence – and we said it in the changing-room now – it’s us versus the world is almost the mindset for the rest of the season. Every game, we are backs against the wall to make the top eight, and the same in the EPCR (Challenge Cup).

“We are probably going to have one home game, with the rest away, so there is going to be quite a bit of travelling.

“But we wanted to play a little more dynamic (style), and we are really pleased that we are managing to do it currently.”

The Lions will enjoy a bit of a break on the URC front until March 25, when they travel to Italy to face Benetton, but they will stay active in training and help prepare the Currie Cup squad for their tournament opener against Western Province on Saturday in Johannesburg.

“It has been a relatively tough last three weeks in terms of preparation and physicality. On the one hand, you want to play; on the other hand, it’s a week or two that some broken bodies can heal, and we can get a couple of guys back,” Van Rooyen said.

“We will release a couple of guys to play Currie Cup. We are going to train Monday and Tuesday, and then the rest of the week off, just to take a physical and mental break. Then the week thereafter, we are going to train flat-out again.

“Currently, we are training the Currie Cup team against the URC team, and next week we will prepare the Currie Cup guys, and the same the following week. Then after that, we will probably fly on the Monday or Tuesday to Benetton.

“It’s important for us to stay sharp, even if we’re not playing, and put the guys in as many rugby decision-making drills and scenarios as possible.”

@ashfakmohamed

IOL Sport

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