Lions hit the road with coach Van Rooyen juggling some balls

19 March 2024 - 15:05
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Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen.
Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen.
Image: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

Without star players Ruan Venter and Henco van Wyk the Lions will have to deploy their resources judiciously if they are going to make headway on tour in the United Rugby Championship (URC) and the Challenge Cup.

Head coach Ivan van Rooyen intimated before the team's departure on Tuesday that he will rotate his squad for the third match on tour against Benetton Treviso in their Challenge Cup round of 16 knockout match. By then they may have Kade Wolhuter, Gianni Lombard, Rabz Maxwane, Ruhan Straeuli and Rynhardt Jonker back from injury.

First though, they have pressing URC engagements against Connacht in Galway and the Ospreys in Swansea.

The Lions have some ground to make up if they hope to secure a place in the top eight of that competition. They are 11th but only three points behind eighth placed Benetton Treviso. Taking points off Connacht, who are seventh and just a point ahead of the Italian team, will serve a dual purpose.

“It is vitally important,” Van Rooyen said about the significance of their two URC matches on tour.

“We need to get as many points as we can. We know how tough Connacht is in Galway. They've only lost to the Irish teams there. That is a great challenge for us.”

Though the Lions fell just short, they should draw some inspiration from their performance away to Ulster.

Connacht's only blemish at home in the URC this season was against Leinster, who edged them by two points. The Lions may have to produce their most ruthless and composed performance of the season to down Connacht at home.

Their clash against Ospreys has the makings of a revenge clash after the Lions lost to the Welsh side at Ellis Park in the Challenge Cup in January. The Lions' discipline let them down on that occasion and the Ospreys delivered a stirring rearguard action.

“They managed to beat us in the dying minutes. It is important for us to go there and rectify what we did. Some good lessons from that game that we can take into this one,” said Van Rooyen, perhaps in reference to their discipline.

Van Rooyen intends to rest some players against Benetton Treviso, mindful they may have another engagement on tour should they win in Treviso.

On the same side of the draw Pau host Connacht in the round of 16 clash that will determine who faces the winner of the match involving the Lions and Benetton. That game will be played a week later and will also be an away match for the Lions should they qualify.

It's not as if Van Rooyen is expecting a less challenging match in Italy. “I think 14 out of the 23 that played for Italy last weekend are from Benetton so they will be full of confidence. It is an opportunity to keep fighting and stay alive in the EPCR.

“We will probably look to use the squad a little bit there. The week after we either go to Connacht or Pau.”

Should the Lions make it through they will have an interesting selection meeting ahead of their quarterfinal. They will have to weigh up rest for the players who have been involved in the preceding weeks, they will have to reward those who got them into the quarterfinals while incorporating others returning from injury.

They will, however, have to earn their places. “The guys need to keep on grinding for them to be considered for selection,” said the coach.

When the Lions return to South Africa they are due to face Leinster and Munster on consecutive weekends at Ellis Park.

Lions touring squad

Forwards: Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Conraad van Vuuren, Darrien Landsberg, Emmanuel Tshituka, Etienne Oosthuizen, Francke Horn, Hanru Sirgel, Izan Esterhuizen, Jaco Visagie, JC Pretorius, JP Smith, Morgan Naude, PJ Botha, Reinhard Nothnagel, Ruan Dreyer, Willem Alberts.

Backs: Andries Coetzee, Edwill van der Merwe, Erich Cronje, Jordan Hendrikse, Marius Louw (captain), Morne van den Berg, Nico Steyn, Quan Horn, Richard Kriel, Sanele Nohamba, Stean Pienaar, Zander du Plessis.

Tour fixtures

Saturday, URC: Connacht, 7.15pm

March 30, URC: Ospreys, 5.05pm

April 6, Challenge Cup last 16: Benetton Treviso, 6.30pm

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