Joey Mongalo stopped just short of likening their early performances in the Currie Cup to the fumbling of strangers in the night. It is no great leap from what the Golden Lions skills coach actually said.
"We have started to date each other. Starting to find each other. We’ve been feeling each other out‚" Mongalo said of the team’s upward curve in recent weeks.
The Lions were bottom of the seven-team Currie Cup two weeks ago, but they have moved into the top four, thanks to wins over the Pumas and Griquas.
"We never had a preseason, but we are seeing the value of the guys having been together for a while‚" he said about their turnaround. "Tactically, how we want to play‚ finding team synergy and settling into combinations has happened over the last three weeks. Now it’s the same team‚ same coaching staff and we are just trying to find consistency in that. That’s probably the main difference."
What has also had an influence was the reassigning of responsibility within the coaching corps. "We are a very united coaching group. That’s across juniors and seniors. We speak the same language on attack and defence."
As much as the Lions have shown improvement‚ their opponents on Saturday come off a bye.
"I think just as much as you’ve seen improvement from us, we can expect them to improve as well‚" Mongalo said of the Blue Bulls. "They have conceded quite a few points. Mitch [John Mitchell‚ their coach] has been in the public eye and he hasn’t been shy in saying they want to work on that."
The Blue Bulls will‚ however‚ arrive at Ellis Park with a team weakened by injury. Hooker Jaco Visagie will later this week undergo surgery to repair cartilage in his shoulder‚ while centre Dries Swanepoel has undergone surgery to mend an Achilles tendon.
Western Province coach John Dobson conceded that losing tighthead Wilco Louw‚ who was called up to the Springboks on Sunday‚ was a blow for his team, but also a huge honour for the front row strongman. Louw joined the Boks in New Zealand as a replacement for Coenie Oosthuizen‚ who suffered a broken arm in last week’s 23-23 draw against Australia in Perth.
"Wilco has been outstanding this year and, if I’m honest‚ it’s a blow for us as a team‚" Dobson said. "At the same time‚ it’s great for him as a player. But having said that, I’ve been pleased with Michael Kumbirai’s progress during the campaign and this creates an opportunity for him.
"I know we didn’t play against the strongest Cheetahs team last Saturday [WP won 57-14]‚ but Michael still scrummed well in that game."