Lions 'geriatrics' like a good red wine
REACTION: There was a zip in the Lions team that hasn’t been seen for some time, especially on the attack.
The statistics of their 39-23 win over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein certainly tells a story.
The Lions dominated possession and outscored the Cheetahs by five tries to two.
Their defence (91 percent success rate) were certainly superior to that of the Cheetahs (83 percent – 30 missed tackles).
However, it is when you turn to the individual players’ statistics that you see a very interesting picture emerging from the match.
Three of the tries were scored by tight forwards.
Players like Marvin Orie, Vincent Tshituka, Andre Warner and Wandisile Simelane were all impressive.
However, it was a trio of players on the wrong side of 30 that produced the real fireworks.
Flank Jaco Kriel (31) was once again racing down the wing in full flight, one an almost 50 metre dash in which he set up a try for scrumhalf André Warner.
Willem Alberts (36), playing lock for the Lions instead of his more traditional loose forward position, provided the muscle the Lions’ pack needed.
Then there was the most senior citizen, World Cup-winning prop Jannie du Plessis (38). He helped his team earn a couple of scrum penalties, work very hard in general play, carried the ball strongly, made his tackles and scored a rare try in Bloemfontein – the place where the 70-times capped veteran started his first-class career 17 years ago.
Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen compared the performances of his team’s geriatrics as being “like good red wine”.
“I think we had a good week,” the Lions coach said, adding: “The message was clear and the guys really understood how we wanted to play.
“They were excited about the way we wanted to play, so yes hats off to everyone and the older guys really put their hands up.”
Van Rooyen said the Lions, despite producing one of their most expansive games of the year, working hard to become physically more effective.
“We make sure they are rested enough [during the week], to ensure they bring it weekend after weekend.
“I think it shows in how Willem, Jannie and Jaco are playing for us right now.
“I think that the players’ expectations of what’s going to happen in the week and the expectations on us for what they need to bring on a Saturday, is healthy.
“The chaps really stood up [in this match] and we’re proud of them.”
The coach said it was great to see the players express themselves again.
“[However,] I think it started upfront. They [the forwards] laid the foundation.
“To see tight forwards scoring tries is great. It was very nice seeing Jannie scoring a try. He admits himself he can’t remember the last time he scored.”
Captain Elton Jantjies was also delighted with his team’s ability to slowly regain the form that made them one of South Africa’s most entertaining teams a few years ago.
“There is a massive growth in terms of how we started this year,” the Bok flyhalf said.
“I’m very happy with the way we’re going as a group,” he said, adding: “We’re getting tighter, we know each other a little bit more personal and that show on the field.
“The leaders are making good decisions.
“When the management is speaking about space, the players are already identifying that space – which means the boys are really studying and trying to grow as individuals and as a team.”