Lions' cubs banking on peaking perfectly for Under-21 final

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Ngia Selengbe of the Lions during the SA Rugby U/21 Championship match between Xerox Lions and DHL Western Province at Emirates Airline Park on October 25, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Anton Geyser/Gallo Images)
Ngia Selengbe of the Lions during the SA Rugby U/21 Championship match between Xerox Lions and DHL Western Province at Emirates Airline Park on October 25, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Anton Geyser/Gallo Images)
  • The Lions Under-21s will bank on peaking at the right time when they meet the Blue Bulls in Friday's Provincial Championship final.
  • Head coach Mzwakhe Nkosi pointed out how his team learned their lessons from an opening round defeat to the Cheetahs and then progressively improved.
  • The Lions were the only team to beat the Bulls in the round-robin phase.

It's not how you start but how you finish.

The Lions' Under-21s will take heart from that hackneyed adage when they host the Blue Bulls in Friday's Provincial Championship final at Ellis Park.

Mzwakhe Nkosi's troops have consistently improved as the short tournament has progressed, culminating in a brilliant 54-19 humbling of Western Province in their final round-robin match and backing the head coach's argument that the side grew throughout.

"We've come a hell of a long way," he said.

"Even though we only lost by one point in our opener against the Cheetahs, it was still a wake-up call. The players realised they lost concentration and I believe I made some poor substitutions in that game.

"We all learned a lot from that game."

Lions road to the final

Lost to Free State Cheetahs 30-31

Beat Sharks 32-16

Beat Blue Bulls 26-17

Beat Western Province 54-19

Following an efficient performance over the Sharks, the Lions cubs threw the tournament wide open with an unexpected but deserved triumph over the high-flying Bulls.

While trying to attach too much significance to that result might not be the greatest idea, it's also the type of confidence boost that can't be ignored.

"We're the only team that beat them this season. That definitely gave us the belief that we can compete at the same level as one of the strongest teams in the competition," said Nkosi.

"Naturally, this is a whole new contest with a different context but we'd do well to at least keep that result in the back of our minds."

Whatever the outcome though, Nkosi is proud of the manner in which a tightly-knit unit managed to cope with a tournament that had a potentially suffocating short structure.

"This was a new format for many of the guys. I'd even venture to say it was a hell of a shock for some," he said.

"I have at least the experience of a Craven Week, where you play three games in five days, to fall back on but it really took some adaptability to cope with the demands of this competition.

"But the players did so brilliantly. It was great to see how quickly they determined what needs to be done."

Teams:

Bulls

15 Richard Kriel, 14 Stravino Jacobs, 13 Diego Appollis, 12 Jay-Cee Nel, 11 Sebastiaan Jobb, 10 David Coetzer, 9 Bernard van der Linde, 8 Divan Venter, 7 Keenan Opperman, 6 Hendri du Toit, 5 Janko Swanepoel, 4 Jordan van Dyk, 3 Eduan Swart, 2 Janco Uys, 1 Kudwzai Dube (captain)


Substitutes: 16 Keano Hendricks, 17 Jan-Hendrik Wessels, 18 Nolan Pienaar, 19 Uzile Tete, 20 WJ Steenkamp, 21 Keagan Johannes, 22 Ruben Beytell, 23 Dawid Kellerman

Lions

15 Shaun Baxter, 14 Prince Nkabinde, 13 James Mollentze, 12 Luke Rossouw, 11 Ngia Selengbe, 10 Marc Morisson, 9 Runaldo Pedro, 8 Francke Horn (captain), 7 Sibusiso Sangweni, 6 Mark Snyman, 5 Cal Smid, 4 Emmanuel Tshituka, 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 2 Dameon Venter, 1 Nkosikhona Masuku


Substitutes (from): 16 Darnell Osowagu, 17 Banele Mthenjane, 18 Ebot Buma, 19 Junior White, 20 Mandisi Mthiyane, 21 Hlulelo Ndudula, 22 Jordan Hendrikse, 23 Boitumelo Tsatsane, 24 Quan Horn, 25 Lindo Ncusane 

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