Lions enjoying SA 'dogfight'
SUPER RUGBY REACTION: Lions coach Zacharia de Bruin labelled the unpredictable and closely contested South African conference a dogfight.
Unlike recent seasons, where the Lions dominated the conference, all five teams are still capable of winning conference honours – with just five rounds of the regular season remaining.
“Now it’s the enjoyable time of the season we right in there,” commented De Bruin.
The Lions, currently fourth, will be looking to make up ground on the table-topping Sharks and second-placed Bulls over the next few rounds.
The Bulls get their tough four-week tour of Australasia underway with a game against the Melbourne Rebels on Friday.
“The Bulls now go on tour,” De Bruin said, adding: “The Sharks are back home. We [still have to] face them [the Sharks], so it’s almost in our own hands again.
“It is a matter of capitalising [on the opportunity].
“We are not there [in the play-offs] yet.
“It is a dogfight now.”
The Lions enter the final stretch facing an enormous challenge.
They face the Highlanders at Ellis Park this week. Then follow the Sharks in Durban, the Stormers at Ellis Park Stadium, the Hurricanes in Johannesburg and the Bulls in Pretoria.
The Lions head into Saturday’s clash against the Highlanders on the back of a morale-boosting 29-28 victory over the Waratahs in Johannesburg.
The Sharks lost 23-29 to the Chiefs and the Bulls went down 13-45 against the Crusaders.
The Stormers had a bye.
The other team in the South African conference, the Jaguares, also slipped back into the chasing pack – after losing 27-32 against the Highlanders in Dunedin at the weekend.
Speaking to reporters after the game at the weekend, De Bruin said he was relieved to return to the winner’s circle after a tumultuous fortnight on tour.
“Coming off what happened on tour, we had a lot of trials and tribulations,” De Bruin said about his decision to return home to get medical treatment for a stress-related condition.
“It was a challenge and then we had a bye – which is not always a good thing.
“If you look at the way we started [against the Waratahs, I thought: ‘Here we go again.’
“However, I must say the players did well [to pull off the win].
“That one try we scored, was one of the most beautiful tries I’ve seen on this [Ellis] Park – where we started right in our 22. That was something to remember. That lifted the spirit.”
Run to the play-offs after Round 13 (compiled by Baylion):
1 Crusaders (47) – Stormers (A), Blues (H), Chiefs (A – Suva), Rebels (H), Bye
2 Hurricanes (40) – Jaguares (H), Bye, Sharks (A), Lions (A), Blues (H)
3 Brumbies (29) – Bye, Bulls (H), Sunwolves (A), Tahs (A), Reds (H)
4 Sharks (29) – Bye, Lions (H), Canes (H), Jaguares (A), Stormers (A)
5 Highlanders (29) – Lions (A), Stormers (A), Bye, Bulls (H), Tahs (H)
6 Rebels (28) – Bulls (H), Sunwolves (A), Tahs (H), Saders (A), Chiefs (H)
7 Bulls (28) – Rebels (A), Brumbies (A), Blues (A), Landers (A), Lions (H)
8 Jaguares (28) – Canes (A), Tahs (A), Reds (A), Sharks (H), Sunwolves (A)
9 Lions (26) – Landers (H), Sharks (A), Stormers (H), Canes (H), Bulls (A)
10 Stormers (24) – Saders (H), Landers (H), Lions (A), Sunwolves (H), Sharks (H)
11 Reds (23) – Tahs (H), Chiefs (A), Jaguares (H), Blues (H), Brumbies (A)
12 Chiefs (23) – Blues (A), Reds (H), Saders (H – Suva), Bye, Rebels (A)
13 Waratahs (22) – Reds (A), Jaguares (H), Rebels (A), Brumbies (H), Landers (A)
14 Blues (21) – Chiefs (H), Saders (A), Bulls (H), Reds (A), Canes (A)
15 Sunwolves (12) – Bye, Rebels (H), Brumbies (H), Stormers (A), Jaguares (A)
By Josh Isaacson