Why the Lions opted to 'split' their squads
INTERVIEW: The Lions have decided to ‘split’ their United Rugby Championship and Currie Cup squads.
Head coach Ivan van Rooyen believes it is a “system” that will best suit the Ellis Park-based franchise.
In the wake of their Round Five win over the Stormers (37-19) on December 4, the team had a three-week period of R&R.
They returned to the training field on December 28.
“The break may be a negative, in regards to a loss of momentum,” he told @rugby365com.
“However, it also afforded the bodies a chance to recover.”
Van Rooyen revealed that there are two separate groups at training – one focusing on the United Rugby Championship and another on the Currie Cup.
This is in stark contrast to other franchises, which prefer to prepare with one collective squad for both competitions.
“It is a new approach for us,” Van Rooyen said of the split squads.
He added that part of the decision was based on the risk of having one extended squad featuring in two different competitions on a weekly basis – increasing the risk of COVID-19 positive cases.
“There will be some sessions where we will work against each other, but the majority of the time training is being done with split squads.
“It is great for the identity of both teams,” added.
Van Rooyen said it also affords Mziwakhe Nkosi and his Currie Cup coaching panel an opportunity to put their own mark on their team.
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“The same applies to the players.
“It is important for players on the fringes to know where they stand and be afforded the opportunity to make a mark.
“They can focus on a specific competition.”
He said the more ‘senior’ members of the squad – based around the team that beat the Stormers in Cape Town – will feature in the URC.
The Currie Cup squad will feature the bulk of the ‘juniors’ who won the national Under-20 competition in 2021.
“Many of them have had a taste of the Currie Cup,” Van Rooyen told @rugby365com.
He is confident they will be able to build on the platform they laid during the opening rounds, despite the stop-start nature of the URC.
The coach said the next batch of matches – the Sharks at Ellis Park on January 22, the Bulls at Ellis Park a week later and the return match at Loftus on February 5 will afford them an extended run of matches.
That is followed by a trip to Dublin to face Leinster on February 25.
They then return to Ellis Park for back-to-back matches against Cardiff on March 12 and Munster a week later.
The Currie Cup team also has some handy in-season gaps – starting against Western Province in Cape Town on Saturday and the Pumas in Nelspruit next Wednesday, before the first ‘pause’.
They have a bye before facing the Sharks in mid-February and the Cheetahs in early March.