Picture: 123RF/WAVEBREAK MEDIA
Picture: 123RF/WAVEBREAK MEDIA

This Saturday is likely to be a red-letter day for the Lions as they go in search of their maiden win in Rainbow Cup SA.

They have their backs to the wall after failing to make an impression since the game’s resumption after the time out enforced by the pandemic.

To be fair‚ the start they made to Super Rugby in 2020 before the plug was pulled was equally unconvincing. Three defeats at the start of Rainbow Cup SA have intensified the pressure on Ivan van Rooyen and his squad‚ largely made up of young talent.

They may be at home this weekend but they will have to contend with the considerable might of the marauding Bulls who have swept all before them since rugby resumed in September 2020.

As the Bulls’ fortunes took off‚ the Lions saw theirs dip. They finished fourth on the points table in the Currie Cup and had to play the Bulls in the semifinals at Loftus. They actually gave a decent account of themselves before yielding to the eventual winners. But that has been their frustration for the last while. They play with pluck and audaciousness but lack the composure and ruthlessness to make the wins stick against good opposition.

It is easy to point to the inexperience in their ranks but in Jannie du Plessis‚ Willem Alberts‚ Jaco Kriel and Ruan Dreyer they have recruited players who are as grizzled as they come. Problem is‚ that vastly experienced quartet has not spent enough time on the playing surface to help make a difference to the Lions’ overall fortunes.

Before last week’s clash against the Stormers coach Van Rooyen bemoaned his team’s lack of consistency. He had a similar complaint after his team’s last-gasp 39-37 defeat to their Cape rivals.

“There were moments where we weren’t consistent enough‚ or good enough. Also some brilliant moments. It is not nice. The guys are hurting. It is our responsibility to stand up for next week.”

Though they have not populated the wins column as often as they should the Lions have made some advances in developing talent and their game. The emergence of flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse as a top talent will stand the Lions in good stead as they find a long term replacement for Elton Jantjies who is playing in France.

In Vincent Tshituka they have a flank that battles bravely every week and as a result is being touted for higher honours. Ditto Wandisile Simelane who has dazzled in midfield‚ despite at times operating behind a retreating pack.

While taking the knocks‚ Van Rooyen has expressed the hope his young squad is taking it all on board. They need to. The Lions’ recruitment policy differs vastly from that of the Bulls and their business model places a higher premium on finding solutions within.

That is especially so when they continue to lose players to the northern hemisphere. On Tuesday news broke of another experienced hand‚ flank Marnus Schoeman joining Grenoble in France.

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