United Rugby Championship

Lions mistakes continue to be 'expensive', but green shoots are emerging

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Ivan van Rooyen. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile/Gallo Images)
Ivan van Rooyen. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile/Gallo Images)
  • The Lions eventually only harvested six log points from their URC tour, but the team's leadership is far from discouraged.
  • Skipper Burger Odendaal and coach Ivan van Rooyen both noted that while their mistakes continue to be expensive, various facets of their game have improved.
  • EW Viljoen's decent shift to flyhalf has also been a highlight.

Despite eventually only collecting six points from their four-match United Rugby Championship tour, the Lions come back to South Africa far from despondent.

Friday night's 10-26 defeat to Ulster was a reminder that Ivan van Rooyen's charges - still getting used to the methods and insights of three new specialist coaches - are still a work in progress and also need to break their habit for self-destructing when they have opponents under pressure.

"It's actually a conversation we've been having since the Currie Cup," skipper Burger Odendaal admitted afterwards.

"Our mistakes are proving expensive. Playing in a competition like this one, which is essentially like Test matches some weeks, if you make an error, the opponents are going to pounce and they'll score points.

"I don't think it's down to a lack of experience or anything. It's just tough, we're merely making un-necessary mistakes. It really feels like when we get into an opponent's 22, the errors just creep in."

READ | Ulster show superior patience and class to comfortably repel error-prone Lions

Van Rooyen agreed.

"It's frustating because we're building pressure. We were definitely competitive for extended periods and our work rate is really high, but then we undermine that with a mistake. That's the frustration," he said.

"The biggest lesson we've learnt is that you need to hang a gold medal around territory in this tournament. If you get impatient with your kicking game and make one or two judgement errors, the opponents exploit that and you suddenly feel stuck in your own 22 for 5 to 10 minutes."

However, there can be little doubt that the Lions have much to work with.

There have been some encouraging signs that they're learning to evolve their attacking structure by employing tactical kicking more effectively, while there's little to fault in terms of their commitment on defence.

"This was actually a big tour for us," said Odendaal.

"The results weren't what we wanted, but there was improvement every single week outside of the Scarlets game. Now we're welcoming opponents to the Highveld and I believe it's a great opportunity for us to grow further.

"There's a definite belief in our system."

Van Rooyen also highlighted EW Viljoen's adaptation to the flyhalf position as a major positive, especially with two of their specialists in Jordan Hendrikse and Eddie Fouche out injured.

"EW showed his versatility. He's got a great set of hands, ball-skills and a fine kicking game. Having someone that can play mutlitple positions help," he said.

"We didn't have much of a choice when we had to shift him to No 10 and he showed great character. He definitely offers something different at pivot for us."

The Lions now embark on a two-week, individual-based regime before returning for a three-week mini pre-season ahead of their next fixture against Cardiff at Ellis Park on November 28.   

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