Jo'burg Lions to load up on star power for B&I Lions
TOUR SPOTLIGHT: The British and Irish Lions will land in South Africa on Monday to start an eight-match, three-Test tour of the Republic – with the European-bound franchises presenting the domestic hurdles.
It starts against the Johannesburg-based Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday, July 3, followed by the Sharks (Ellis Park, July 7), Bulls (Loftus Versfeld, July 10), South Africa ‘A’ (Cape Town Stadium, July 14) and Stormers (Cape Town Stadium, July 17).
The Tests are on July 24 (Cape Town Stadium), July 31 and August 7 (both Soccer City, Soweto).
The first question is whether the domestic franchises will provide any serious challenge to the tourists – given the quality of the B&I Lions.
The Ellis Park-based Lions are set to welcome back some international players of their own for the tour opener.
Coach Ivan van Rooyen said his team, given their results in domestic competitions, has a lot of work to do in the build-up this week.
However, he believes they will not be cannon fodder for the B&I Lions, as they will be able to rely on some Springbok muscle.
“There are certain areas where we can compete and put them [the B&I Lions] under pressure and there are certain areas where we need to be better,” Van Rooyen told @rugby365com, when asked about what they will focus on in the build-up this week.
“When we [the local Lions] go through a mental dip, we look a bit vulnerable and tend to get a bit ‘frantic’, instead of being composed.
“Obviously we will face 23 Test players.”
Van Rooyen is convinced his team will ‘rise to the occasion’.
“It is a once-in-a-career occasion,” the Lions coach said, adding: “We have a few tough training days ahead to get us closer to where we want to be.”
Van Rooyen confirmed they will get back a host of senior players who have not featured in the first two rounds of the Currie Cup – players like Springboks Jannie du Plessis, Jaco Kriel and Ross Cronjé.
Also back in training and in line for selection to face the B&I Lions are Sithembiso Sithole, Jaco Visagie, Burger Odendaal and Namibian international Divan Rossouw.
“There are some nice [selection] headaches for us,” Van Rooyen said.
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Bulls Director of Rugby Jake White sounded a note of caution about the enormity of the task facing the local franchises.
He suggested that his team’s recent trip to Treviso – for the Rainbow Cup Final – would have benefitted the players who were involved.
However, the encounters with the B&I Lions will be a big step up for the domestic teams.
“The only difference as you go up in levels – from school to club rugby, club rugby to provincial rugby and Test rugby – is time and space,”White said.
“Because you have less time and space, your reaction has to be quicker.
“The B&I Lions are coming with players like [Maro] Itoje, [Kyle] Sinckler, [Owen] Farrell. Those guys are seasoned Test players.
“We [South African teams] have been unfortunate in that we have not been able to test ourselves against international opposition [since the 2019 World Cup].
“There might be a surprise, but we have to be realistic about it.
“From a provincial perspective, you need to understand you are playing against the best players in the world.
“That is the exciting part.
“When I coached the Brumbies, we beat the B&I Lions team with a Brumbies team that had no Wallabies. It can be done and it is not impossible.
“However, you have to be realistic.
“We [the Bulls] are playing them two weeks before the first Test, so we are likely going to face their best team.”
Cape Town leg
Stormers coach John Dobson also admitted that the domestic teams face a massive challenge.
“If that was the team that was to go out and play the British and Irish Lions, we would be in for a long afternoon,” Dobson said of WP’s 32-38 loss to the Lions at Ellis Park last week.
“There is a massive amount of work – whether it is personnel changes or technical detail,”the WP coach said.
“Obviously the occasion will lift the teams. All four franchises will be lifted by the occasion of playing the B&I Lions.
“However, there is a lot that needs to happen in a short space of time for all of us.”