Lions keen to show what they are capable of
INTERVIEW: Lions captain Burger Odendaal has shrugged off the disappointment of last week’s cancelled match and the stop-start nature of the United Rugby Championship.
For him and his team, any opportunity to play is a boon not to be scoffed at.
They are also keen to show how much growth they made during their month-long European trip earlier in the season – despite some disappointing results.
The Lions started their European campaign with a bang, beating Italian outfit Zebre 38-26. Then followed losses to Scarlets (13-36), Glasgow Warriors (9-13) and Ulster (10-26).
Looking to build on the promising aspects of their tour, they were up for the challenge of hosting Welsh franchise Cardiff at Ellis Park this past Sunday.
Instead, they had to endure another week of training and will return to the playing field against the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday.
The Lions skipper, Odendaal, said they were originally preparing to base themselves in Italy – when the travel ban was still in place in the early stages of the URC tournament.
Then came the news that South African teams would be able to host the Round Six and Seven games.
That, initial, joy and excitement quickly turned to despair last Friday when the news broke of new lockdowns amidst the revelation of a new strain of COVID.
“We were so excited about the possibility of playing home games, along with news that spectators could return to matches in South Africa,” he told @rugby365com in an interview.
“It was very disappointing,” he said of the two rounds of cancelled matches.
“However, we have learnt – through these COVID times – that you can never get comfortable in any situation. Things change in an instant.”
He said the one aspect they have accepted is the need to be flexible.
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“You can’t afford not to pitch and not be motivated, even for training, just because there is uncertainty.
“We do our best on the training field to ensure we are ready for any eventuality – whether there is a game or not.”
Odendaal, 28, said despite going through a building phase in the early rounds, the team managed to remain positive and focused on the job at hand.
“At times on tour we showed exactly what we are capable of,” Odendaal said.
“We have had a good break and we have taken a step in the right direction. The team is improving with every passing week.
“We are excited about the prospect of playing again and showing where we are as a team.”
He said defence is the one aspect where the Johannesburg-based outfit made great strides.
When they run out against the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday it is set to be a ‘typical derby’ – an uncompromising and bruising affair.
“The Stormers enjoy playing an expansive game and have some dangerous backs that can cut you apart at any time,” the Lions skipper said.
He added that the Lions will look to play their own brand of expansive rugby, building on the foundation they laid on tour.
“We are known as a team that enjoys running with the ball and hopefully we can put that on display at the weekend.
“Our downfall in the past has been the errors we make when we play an expansive game.
“Sometimes we force a pass, instead of just being a bit more patient.
“The key for us is continuity and building through phases.”