Lions plan way to come to grips with and not let go of the Bulls

A priority in their URC clash

13 February 2024 - 16:38
By Liam Del Carme
Asenathi Ntlabakanye of the Lions driving the ball up in a clash against the Bulls at Ellis Park.
Image: Gordon Arons (Gallo Images) Asenathi Ntlabakanye of the Lions driving the ball up in a clash against the Bulls at Ellis Park.

Lions tight head prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye admits their set pieces were average in their dramatic 30-28 defeat in the United Rugby Championship (URC) at the hands of the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld last month.

This weekend they have the opportunity to come to grips with the same opponents at Ellis Park, providing a shot at redemption.

They could have won the encounter with the last kick of the game, but Jordan Hendrikse's long-range penalty drifted wide.

“Most of the guys would have wanted to play the Bulls the following week,” said Ntlabakanye about the chance to quickly right the wrongs from their trip to Loftus.

“It's quite simple. It's a quite a big derby for us. We have to replicate our form if not do better than we did at Loftus if we are to be on top. There is a big responsibility that rests on the forwards but one we are willing to accept,” he said about the need to front up again against their derby rivals.

Though the Lions were unable to repeat back-to-back wins at Loftus they did draw confidence from their last trek up the N1.

“It was a good character show. We are more positive and there is more self-belief after that match,” said the popular prop.

No 8 Francke Horn concurs that the Lions can feel more emboldened. Though results haven't always gone in their favour he draws comfort from their methodology. “There is lots of confidence in how we play. We played really well against the Bulls. We are not focused on the log and take it game by game. If you play well you automatically go higher on the log.”

He drew attention to the fact that when the Lions have come up short, it has been by small margins. “We have been improving week in and week out. The losses have been by less than seven points. When we get these close games on our side then things will look a lot better.

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“It is frustrating. Sometimes we concede silly penalties at the wrong stage. Maybe there is a lapse in concentration and maybe there hasn't been effective game management. We need to make the right decisions at the right time.”

Ntlabakanye agrees there is work to be done. “We are not there yet. We have shown glimpses of what we are capable of. We have been building for three years. Some things are coming together slowly. Hopefully there will be more glimpses this weekend.”

The area he wants to come to grips with this weekend is in the tight exchanges. “Our set pieces were average. When you have the Bulls under pressure you need to keep them there.

“The collisions are what I live for. It does feel good. It gets my game going and it gets guys psyched up. It's something I can't explain.”