The Lions can catapult themselves to the top of the SA Shield in the United Rugby Championship (URC) with a resounding win over the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday. And while he is careful not to talk up that prospect, captain Marius Louw has put it on the back burner.
The Lions, almost imperceptibly, have leopard crawled their way to the back of a points table logjam. They are 11th but could shoot into fourth if they record a bonus point win at Loftus. Eight teams are separated by just five points but the Lions won’t just play themselves into the top four, but to the top of the local shield.
“Over the past few years the Lions have struggled to win [against] SA teams,” Louw acknowledged. “I think we got that monkey off our back. Now it is about sticking to the process [and] getting a good performance before going on a little break.
“Going to the top of the shield is in the back of the mind but we’ll keep it at the back and stick to our processes and make sure that we perform,” the centre said.
The Lions will certainly have to be much better than they were against the resurgent Ospreys at Ellis Park on Sunday last week if they want consecutive wins at Loftus. They faded badly in the closing minutes against the feisty Welsh side who made the Lions pay for their poor discipline.
The Lions lost 38-28 despite holding an 11-point lead inside the last 10 minutes of the game. Losing players to the sin bin conspired against them against opponents who were eagle-eyed for opportunities to pounce.
“We were a little disappointed with our performance over the weekend,” acknowledged Louw. “Our discipline was not good enough, but it is something we will look at. “It’s uncharacteristic of us to let go like that in the last 10 minutes. It has been a discussion point going into this week.”
The Lions’ capitulation is not something Bulls captain Marcell Coetzee is prepared to revel in. He certainly does not see it as indication of what might transpire at Loftus this weekend. Quite the contrary.
“Given what happened last week they will come out firing,” Coetzee predicted. “You can’t write off the Lions. They are a proud SA side. We found that out the hard way last year. You can’t afford to be complacent in this competition. We will give them the necessary respect and acknowledge what they can bring.”
Though the Bulls beat Bordeaux-Begles in a high-scoring game in the Champions Cup at Loftus on Saturday, they displayed too many soft moments for a team hoping to contest with the elite in Europe. There is the theory that their travels had jaded them and the Lions displayed similar lacklustre characteristics.
“It comes down to working harder,” said Louw. “We were a little flat-footed. It is something we will look into to make sure we are performing at our best and our intent is a little better this weekend.”
Should the Lions win on Saturday but fail to score four tries, the Bulls may still head the SA shield, but only if they get a bonus point. The Bulls will go into the game on 26 points with the Stormers but have a superior points difference.
The Lions, who like the Bulls have played a game fewer than the rest of the field, lurk three points behind, while the Sharks are rooted to the bottom of the table on nine points.