They may be unbeaten in 19 Super Rugby derby matches‚ but the Lions will be at their most vulnerable when they host the Stormers on Saturday.
They’ve lost three of their last four matches and their only win in that period came by just one point, at home, over the lowly Sunwolves. They have‚ however‚ dominated their conference in recent seasons with 13 of their 19 consecutive derby wins achieved by a winning margin of more than 12 points.
Their last defeat came against the Bulls at Loftus in May 2015‚ while their last home defeat in a derby match came in February 2015 when the Stormers triumphed 22 to 19.
Yet they are set for a searching examination this weekend as the Stormers, too, hope to regroup following their defeat at the hands of the Bulls.
No-nonsense loose-head prop Jacques van Rooyen explained why the Lions warm to familiar foe in derby matches.
"There is that extra motivation to prove yourself against your countrymen‚" he said. "After the game they must know they played against one of the better sides in Super Rugby. When your opponent sits on the bus driving away from the game‚ he must remember your name. As an old man, he must still be talking about you. That one big tackle‚ or that one scrum where you popped his rib. That’s probably my motivation."
Of late, however‚ the Lions’ claws have been clipped.
Their home ground‚ where altitude has proved such a useful ally against overseas teams over the past few seasons‚ no longer insulates them from loss.
"All the other teams come prepared and conditioned‚" said Van Rooyen. "They’ve come to realise the times we target in the game. Those times when we press hard, they tend to keep the ball and deny us access to possession. That way we can’t tire them with our running game. The onus is on us to keep possession until they tire. You reap the rewards from their fatigue later in the game."
Van Rooyen is preparing himself for a particularly confrontational battle against the Stormers’ vaunted front row — a front row that will bristle as the Bulls occasionally put their noses out of joint at Loftus.
"If you have a bad weekend you always come back harder. This week he’ll come back with a bit of a grudge‚" Van Rooyen said of the Stormers’ Springbok tight-head Wilco Louw. "He would want to prove himself again. Not that he has to. I also have to say congrats to [Bulls prop] Pierre Schoeman, who had a great game at scrum time.
"The Stormers pride themselves on their forward pack. They like to pick and go‚ play a tight game but they [are] also expansive. If we can match them or better them in the scrum‚ line-out and maul it will be a good contest and hopefully we can get some reward from that."
The Lions have announced the arrival of former Stormers’ scrum-half Nic Groom to their ranks. Groom‚ who joined the franchise from Northampton‚ has been contracted until the end of October.