It won't be a walk in the park for Bulls
URC SPOTLIGHT: Jacques van Rooyen has an intimate knowledge of the Lions’ inner workings, so he knows the back-to-back Trans-Jukskei derbies will be brutal arm-wrestles.
The Lions host their northern neighbours at Ellis Park on Saturday in a United Rugby Championship Round 11 match, with the return fixture (a rearranged Round Nine encounter) at Loftus Versfeld a week later.
The 35-year-old prop, who converted from loosehead to tighthead in Pretoria, played more than a 100 of his 180-odd first-class games for the Ellis Park-based Lions team.
He featured in the squads that reached the 2016, 2017 and 2018 Super Rugby finals.
After a stint in the Premiership with Bath and a brief flirtation with the Red Hurricanes in Japan, he arrived back in Pretoria – where it all started – in 2020.
Born and schooled in Pretoria, Van Rooyen was not getting much recognition in his home town.
Then Lions coach Johan Ackermann saw his potential and since 2013 he was a regular feature at Ellis Park.
That is why he knows exactly how difficult it will be for the Bulls in the two-match series between teams place 13th (Lions – two wins and 12 points) and 15th (Bulls – one win and seven points).
And it is in the set pieces where the real battle will be.
“We know that the Lions, for the past few years, have had a good scrummaging pack,” Van Rooyen told a virtual media briefing in the build-up to Saturday’s encounter in Johannesburg.
“They like to attack you on your own ball as well their own feed,” he said, adding: “We know very well that every single scrum will be a battle.
“We have to make sure we come to the party in the set pieces.”
He also knows how the Lions pride themselves in getting wins in the Den – Ellis Park.
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“The Lions play a good brand of rugby,” the veteran front row forward said.
“They like to use those quick outside backs.”
He said the key is to get the better of the Lions in the set pieces and deny them those opportunities.
“Since I have been at the Bulls, we have not had one easy game against them,” the burly prop said.
“[Ellis Park] has been a tough ground for us to go play at.
“Obviously, their style of play, the tempo they play at makes it a real challenge.
“Also, the new coaches that they have brought in – you can see they are a lot more aggressive on defence,” he said of World Cup-winning Springbok Jaque Fourie, who is the Lions’ new defence coach.
“We know that is coming. They are very organised on defence.
“We have been working hard on what we want to do better.
“We want to make sure that we come to the party to ensure that we secure our ball and put them under pressure on their own feeds as well.”
Both teams are looking to bounce back from nail-biting losses last week – the Lions losing 37-47 to the Sharks at Ellis Park and the Bulls suffering a 26-30 reverse against the Stormers at Loftus Versfeld.
“We were obviously disappointed with the performance from last weekend,” Van Rooyen said.
“The Stormers really played well and started well.
“We took a good, long, hard look at ourselves and the way we wanted to play. We obviously did not get to do that in that game.
“We just have to try to get back to basics and make sure that everyone is on the same page.
“We have to make sure that for the upcoming games we are up to standard, that we start well and not make life difficult for ourselves, unnecessarily, by having to find ourselves chasing games.”