Lions to get some serious muscle back
The Lions, like all South African teams, will look to make the most of any advantage they can get playing in the rarified Highveld air in the hot summer months.
Having returned from Europe with one win and six points from the first four rounds, the Lions have a six-week break ahead of their next match.
They host Welsh outfit Cardiff at Ellis Park on Sunday, November 28.
That is followed by an encounter with Irish giants Munster six days later at the same iconic Johannesburg venue.
Those are the games they will look to use to make up for a disappointing opening month – a 38-26 win over Zebre, followed by defeats to Scarlets (13-36), Glasgow Warriors (9-13) and Ulster (10-26).
Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen described the decision to move the next two rounds back to SA as “unbelievably good news”.
He said they will give the players a two-week break for some R&R, before starting a ‘mini pre-season’.
“We feel there are a lot of areas – skill development – that the players can work on, on their own, during that period,” the coach said.
“Once we get back it is three weeks of extremely tough preparation,” he said of the build-up to the Cardiff game.
He said the training will be “very scientific” and aimed towards the way they want to play.
Van Rooyen said some of the players who missed the Euro trip – either through selection or injury will come into the picture.
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“There are players like a [injured veteran Springbok] Willem Alberts and [newly recruited prop] JP [Jean-Pierre] Smith, who should be ready to go when we play against,” he added.
He added that there is also “positive feedback” on injured players like Eddie Fouche and lock Pieter Jansen van Vuren.
“It might be touch-and-go,” the coach said about Fouche’s availability.
Fouche, the back-up to Jordan Hendrikse – who fractured his right ankle during the Lions’ second-round match against Scarlets – injured his ankle in training and returned home.
“Initially it was thought to be a serious three- to four-month injury,” he said of Fouche’s training ground mishap.
“It doesn’t sound like it is that extensive. It just depends on rehabilitation time.
Jansen van Vuren, who injured his left MCL against Glasgow Warriors and also returned to South Africa, is in a similar return-to-play timeframe to Fouche.
Lions captain Burger Odendaal said they will look to make good use of their home ground advantage.
“The guys will grow through this [Euro tour] experience,” he told @rugby365com.
“It is not going to be easy for the teams coming to Johannesburg – especially in November and December.
“Hopefully we can put teams under the same pressure that we were under while on tour.”