Lions need to get it right
August 23, 2013, 10:13:39
They have threatened in recent weeks without quite getting it right, and last week they may have been unlucky, but the MTN Golden Lions are going to have to make their own luck this weekend or they could be saying goodbye to any chances of being competitive in the Absa Currie Cup.
The Lions, who may have had some of the sharpness drawn from them in the two bruising Super Rugby promotion-relegation matches played against the Southern Kings before this competition started, could easily be sitting at the top of the log right now with two wins in two starts.
The domestic tournament has been closely fought so far this season, with all the games being fairly close, and the Lions could easily have won both their games.
But the fine margin between winning and losing does not get reflected in any column on the log at the close of the season, which is when the semifinalists will be determined.
Of course, the Premier Division of South Africa’s oldest provincial rugby competition is a bit weird – there are six teams, and the 10 league matches are really only about losing two of them for the knockout phase.
And with seven matches to be played after this one, there can be no telling whether or not one of the teams ahead of them on the log will hit a soft point in their season where they lose a couple of games in a row. It probably will happen.
But Lions coach Johan Ackermann will know that his men can’t rely on others to do the work for them, and it is so much easier if they just take charge of their own destiny.
And they can start doing that by getting the areas that have offered promise in recent weeks to be spot-on when they travel up the M1 highway to Loftus to face the Vodacom Blue Bulls on Saturday night.
The Bulls are an unknown quantity. They were good when they fought back to hold champions DHL Western Province to a draw two weeks ago, but it looked like both they and the GWK Griquas were scared of playing when the clashed in Pretoria last Friday night. It was a horrible game, and if the Bulls play like that again, the Lions can certainly win it.
The two marginal TMO decisions that went against the Lions against the Sharks last week were both probably the right calls, but in the era before television adjudication both would probably have been awarded without complaint from the opposition. The point being that the Lions did have their opportunities in Durban, but didn’t use them.
On the evidence of that match, discipline is one area the Lions are going to have to pay the most attention to. Every time they got scoring momentum last week they relinquished it by giving away penalties in their own half almost immediately after the restart.
At Loftus, where the place-kicks travel that much further than they do at the coast, it is even more imperative they get that aspect of their game right.
They do have Elton Jantjies heading back to his best form – it’s not a mystery why he struggled at the Stormers: their game just doesn’t suit his playing style – and the confidence the flyhalf would have gained in the second half last week could be the Lions’ biggest trump-card on Saturday. (A talented but erratic player. Best he stays at the Lions!)
For the two coastal teams, the Sharks and Western Province, this weekend is an opportunity to make up ground that was lost when they dropped points at home in the opening round.
Their first away trips of the season take them both to central South Africa, with the pressure perhaps being a bit more acute on the Sharks than it is on Province at this juncture.
Losing in Bloemfontein shouldn’t be seen as the train smash it would be at home, but nonetheless the Sharks, even in winning last week, still showed that they have a lot of issues to sort out in their game, and another defeat against their old nemesis will be a major setback. They have Keegan Daniel back, but Jacques Botes continues as captain.
The Cheetahs only lost by one point to WP last Saturday, and it was only a late try that snatched it for the winners, but they were outplayed at forward for most of that game and will require a big improvement in that area if they want to make it an uncomfortable Friday night for the Durbanites.
WP used to struggle in Kimberley but their last few visits have been successful ones. It may sound an odd thing to say, but they should relish playing away from Cape Town.
The Newlands field, because of all the recent rain, is apparently very heavy underfoot, and although they have a strong forward pack, Province also have a team well suited to a running game.
They will be hoping that, provided their forwards get the same foothold they did last week against the Cheetahs, the running skills of Juan de Jongh, Gio Aplon and newcomer Cheslin Kolbe will come to the fore.
Griquas are missing Lourens Adriaanse as well as key players in the second row, so may struggle to make the impression at forward that they did against the Sharks.
WEEKEND FIXTURES (all times CAT, SA, GMT+2)
TOYOTA FREE STATE CHEETAHS v THE SHARKS (Bloemfontein, Friday, 7:10pm)
Prediction: Cheetahs to scrape a win.
GWK GRIQUAS v DHL WESTERN PROVINCE (Kimberley, Saturday, 3pm)
Prediction: Western Province to win by more than seven points.
VODACOM BLUE BULLS v MTN GOLDEN LIONS (Pretoria, Saturday, 5:05pm)
Prediction: Lions by less than 7.