Lions look for variation in play when they take on Glasgow in United Rugby Championship
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Johannesburg – Of the 160 minutes the Emirates Lions have played in the United Rugby Championship, they have only managed to stitch together one half of excellent rugby – the first 40 minutes against Zebre in their opening encounter of the tournament.
In that stanza, the Lions exhibited an attacking brand of rugby that left supporters and their Italian opponents breathless as they sped to a 35-0 lead. This past weekend, against Scarlets, all that endeavour seemed to evaporate as the lead-footed Lions huffed and puffed their way through the first half, and then – trailing 20-6 at half-time – tried to chase down the game by upping the tempo.
In that undertaking, they failed – their handling poor at times, their one-off runners and crash-ball exposing them to turnover, their discipline pinging them back at crucial moments, while some wobbly line-out and defensive work put paid to their efforts. There was a clear plan – a Jackal and Hyde-esque aesthetic to the gameplan in the two games, and in Wales, the two halves.
Against Zebre the Lions used the set-pieces to release the backline, while against Scarlets the set-pieces became the main tool to sledgehammer the opposition into submission. Getting this balance right then – between running the ball, and bashing it onwards – will be the big lesson that the Lions players must execute in their remaining two games in Europe, starting with Glasgow this weekend.
Lions backline, attack and skills coach, Ricardo Loubscher, revealed as much on Tuesday while speaking to the media.
“We want to play to our strengths,” said Loubscher, “but also we must realise that here you can’t be predictable.
“We want to find a balance between attacking through our forwards and also our great backline. We need to add a bit more variation to keep teams honest and especially when we go into the opposition's 22, teams realise that we use our forwards quite a bit, so hopefully this weekend we can add a bit of variation to our attack.”
In Llanelli, this past weekend, the Lions enjoyed dominance in the scrums, and the maul to a certain extent, if not the rub of the green of the official’s whistle. When that plan failed to pay dividends, the Joburgers seemed to battle and couldn’t turn the game back in their favour. It was then that the team reverted to type as seen throughout this season – an unfortunate development when spied through the looking glass of the Zebre game.
Said Loubscher: “We looked at that performance after the Zebre game and that is what we are capable of.
“We have a talented squad but the big thing is to just have consistency in what we do. We saw against the Scarlets, once teams put us under pressure, we tend to go back to old habits. The challenge this week is to see when we are put under the pump, to make sure that we don’t go back to those old habits and just stick to the plan. Stick to what we have practiced.”
The Lions will be without Jordan Hendrikse this weekend, and indeed for the next three month, after the young play-maker fractured his ankle against Scarlets. Eddie Fouche is expected to take over the role of the No 10 jumper, and a forward dominated game might just be his bread and butter.
But, as Loubscher pointed out, the Lions will have to expand their game, and not only rely on a strategy wholly committed to the forwards, but one that also unleashes a dangerous backline that is protected by the pack.
Kick-off on Saturday against the Warriors is at 4pm.