Lions ready to roam Europe for prey
Ivan van Rooyen will hope that the adage ‘a change is as good as a holiday’ will ring true for his team.
After a pretty barren Currie Cup season – in which they managed just two wins from 12 outings and finished last in the seven-team competition – the Johannesburg-based franchise hopes to be a bit more productive when they feature as one of four South African teams in the United Rugby Championship.
The Lions landed in Parma at the weekend, where they start their campaign against Italian outfit Zebra this coming Friday.
From there they head to Wales (to face the Scarlets in Llanelli), Scotland (Glasgow in Glasgow) and Ireland (Ulster in Belfast).
The Lions coach – with his new panel of assistants in tow – spoke of the “excitement” about the challenge in Europe.
Van Rooyen will be supported by Albert Van den Berg (forwards and line-out coach), Ricardo Loubscher (backline, attack and skills coach) and Jaque Fourie (defence coach).
Loubscher, a former Springbok assistant coach, spoke about the need for ‘balance’ from a team known for putting a higher premium on attack than they normally do on defence.
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“The main thing is to ensure we work hard on our game management,” he said, adding: “We love to keep the ball in hand and go on the attack, but we will need to be able to adapt to the challenging weather conditions in Europe.”
The head coach, Van Rooyen, also touched on the need to adapt to the different refereeing interpretations in Europe, where the emphasis is a lot more on the set pieces.
“They will probably allow a bigger battle at the break down as well,” he said.
“The big challenge for us will be the ability to fix it [adjust to referees] in the gam.
“We must see what the referee is allowing, what he is not allowing and improve our decision-making in the 80 minutes.”
He added that discipline will be key for his team, an aspect in which they came up well short in the Currie Cup.
“It [discipline] is obviously something we will work hard at.”
Van Rooyen is hopeful that the change of scenery – and a month on the road as a team – will help the team change around its fortunes.
“As a coaching unit, we’ve been fortunate enough to have time to discuss and plan how we want to approach the URC,”Van Rooyen said.
“We expect conditions to be challenging, but at the same time looking forward to competing and establishing ourselves as the competition progresses,” he added.
The return from injury of A players like lock Wilhelm van der Sluys – after fully recovering from a shoulder injury – will be a significant boost.
Also included in the touring party are new loan recruits Pieter Jansen van Vuren, Eddie Fouche, Matt More, Morgan Naude and Ginter Smuts.
Springboks Ross Cronje (ankle surgery) and Willem Alberts (hamstring rehabilitation) were not considered for selection.
Also staying home is talented playmaker Gianni Lombard (ankle injury).
All three however form part of the greater URC squad and will be available for selection once fully recovered.
— Emirates Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) September 18, 2021