Lions veterans not just 'talking' a big game
REACTION: Since the start of the Currie Cup half of the revamped domestic season, the Lions have beaten all-comers.
They have moved from fifth on the standings to second – beating Western Province (22-19), the Cheetahs (39-22) and the Sharks (27-12).
And the central theme to this evolving drama is the form of the most senior members of the cast.
Flank Jaco Kriel (31), lock Willem Alberts (36) and prop Jannie du Plessis (38) were again the mainstay in the win over the Sharks at Ellis Park at the weekend.
It was, potentially, the Lions’ last home game – unless they host a semifinal or the Final.
With away games against the Bulls and Pumas in the next fortnight, the experience of those senior players will become even more valuable.
Coach Ivan van Rooyen said it helps if you have one or two ‘big hitters’ like Alberts, Kriel and Du Plessis to rely on.
“I think we’re getting better every week and I’m proud of that,” Van Rooyen said after the win against the Sharks.
He admitted the Sharks put a lot of pressure on the Lions defensively.
However, the hosts outscored their visitors by two tries to nil – the match-sealing five-pointer coming with less than 10 minutes remaining on the clock.
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“I think the key was just to stay patient,” the coach said.
“I really felt that we executed the one or two chances we got well and we managed to put them under a bit of pressure.
“I think the system was good and individually they really put their hands up.”
He also praised the senior, who all seem to have hit a rich vein of form.
“What I respect about guys like Willem [Alberts], Jannie [du Plessis] and Jaco [Kriel] is they don’t just want to talk a big game and want to talk in the team room how to do things,”Van Rooyen said.
“Their actions are really speaking loudly at this stage.
“The senior guys are willing to put their hands up through their actions.
“They’re willing to put their hands up by getting their hands dirty.”
Captain Elton Jantjies also spoke about the ‘influence’ of the senior players and how that makes his job easier.
“They bring a massive experience off the field as well,” the flyhalf said, adding: “Jannie spoke about [the] brotherhood and the [need to] gel between the juniors and the seniors off the field as well.
“When it comes to on the field, [hooker] Jaco Visagie is really playing well and making great decisions.
“Then we’ve got Marvin [Orie] in the middle, we’ve got Jakes [Kriel] and then we’ve got [No.8] Len [Massyn ] growing into a leadership role.
“He [Massyn] has been with us for quite a few seasons. He learns a lot from Warren [Whiteley, the assistant coach] and we’ve got [scrumhalf] Andre Warner with massive experience.
“It is also easy with Burger [Odendaal] Wandi [Wandisile Simelane], who is exciting and just keeps on growing through the season.
“I haven’t even mentioned Willem and Jannie.
“They play a big role in terms of the leadership and that’s key in terms of channelling that and make sure that everyone’s on the same page.”