Super Rugby

Grizzled Jannie and Willem weren't 'exempt' from finding feet at Ellis Park

Willem Alberts. (Getty Images)
Willem Alberts. (Getty Images)
  • Just because Jannie du Plessis and Willem Alberts had fine pedigrees when joining the Lions, it wasn't exactly reasonable to expect them to just merely adapt.
  • Ivan 'Cash' van Rooyen, the franchise's head coach, admits the duo took a bit of time to settle, but their impact wasn't just confined to performances on the field.
  • With an inexperienced coaching staff in place and a squad in transition, Du Plessis and Alberts have been 'fantastic' in helping with some technical insights as well as contributing to the team culture.

He doesn't deny they had their challenges in adapting, but Lions head coach Ivan 'Cash' van Rooyen believes Jannie du Plessis and Willem Alberts possibly carried too heavy a burden on their shoulders in terms of expectation from South Africa's rather fickle rugby fraternity.

Much excitement accompanied the grizzled former Springbok duo's arrival at Ellis Park this season, especially in light of the impact made in 2019 by men like Duane Vermeulen, Schalk Brits and Ruan Pienaar.

That didn't amount to much tangible on the field, with Du Plessis in particular struggling at tighthead during the early rounds of this year's aborted Super Rugby campaign.

Alberts, who only officially re-joined the franchise at the end of January, was initially managed due to a bicep problem before steadily making his presence more felt on the tour to Australasia.

Nonetheless, the lack of visible impact combined with a record of five losses from six starts prompted critics to ponder the wisdom of recruiting the two players.

Yet the three-month shutdown has shed valuable, if rather obvious, perspective on the matter: senior players aren't immune to struggling to find their feet.

"It doesn't matter who you are, any person is going to take a bit of time to adapt," Van Rooyen told Sport24.

"The thing is, you're not only getting used to a different system in terms of the rugby you play, but you're also trying to fit in."

Both Du Plessis and Alberts, since shooting to stardom, have been exposed to high performance environments that differ from Ellis Park's.

That's not to say any one of them is superior to the other, but it definitely is a factor.

Van Rooyen, though, points out the upside.

"The great thing is that adaptation is an opportunity too. We encourage all our players to just be themselves," he said.

"That's important even for men of Jannie and Willem's stature. From the moment they came into the squad, they made a positive impact because they expressed themselves."

Given the relative inexperience of the Lions' coaching staff, the duo have naturally been roped in as impromptu player-coaches too.

And that guidance extends further than just the technical stuff.

"In many ways we're starting afresh again. Jannie and Willem have been fantastic in helping us evolve our team culture," said Van Rooyen.

"We've been blessed with a nice blend of rookies and veterans. It's a very important balance, because both groups are instrumental in ensuring that the best is yet to come for us in the next two to three years."  

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