'Mental block' against SA teams as Lions look to end woeful record

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The Lions celebrate  beating the Stormers in December 2021 (Gallo)
The Lions celebrate beating the Stormers in December 2021 (Gallo)

It has been over a year since the Lions beat a South African side in the United Rugby Championship (URC), and forwards coach Albert van den Berg acknowledges that it has now reached the point of being a "mental block". 

A 37-19 victory over eventual champions, the Stormers, at Cape Town Stadium on 4 December 2021 has been followed by seven straight defeats against South African opposition. 

READ | Stormers unbothered by heavy Bulls rotation

The Lions are still well placed in the 2022/23 URC, where they currently occupy 5th position on the table with five wins from eight, but on Friday, they make the trip to Durban to take on the Sharks, who are expected to field the bulk of the star Springboks for the clash. 

It is a daunting assignment on paper for the Lions, but the Sharks have been very inconsistent this season and are 10th on the log themselves with just four wins from seven. 

"It's definitely important to us," Van den Derg said of the Lions' record against the South African franchises. 

"We beat the Stormers in Cape Town, and after that, we haven't won a game against a South African side. It's a little bit of a mental block when we play against our own players, and we play against the overseas guys it is like our players are more free and just go for it.

"The mental block is there with the South African sides, but it's not something that will keep us from fighting. We want to be competitive and stay in the race, and the Sharks this weekend is a good opportunity to show what we have prepared for."

Van den Berg has been encouraging the Lions to approach this game with positivity, focusing on the opportunity that came with playing against some of the best players on the international stage. 

"I've said to the guys that they should look forward to this game," he said.

"It's not often you get the opportunity to play against the likes of Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Thomas du Toit, Lukhnayo Am and all the other Springboks they have.  

"The only way you really measure yourself is when you play against those guys, so we're looking forward to the game.

"It's a game where we can see our shortcomings and what is working and not working for us. It gives the players that opportunity to see where they are in their careers."

South African rugby fans will not be used to seeing their sides do battle just two days before Christmas, and Van den Berg acknowledged that it had delivered its own challenges this week. 

"I played for six years in Japan, and in my first year, it was quite a surprise to have our captain's run on 25 December," said Van den Berg. 

"It's new for us. The difficult part and the challenge are the families.

"Your wife and kids are on holiday, and the kids don't understand why dad has to go to work. It makes it hard for our players, but it's something that I think we'll become more accustomed to the longer we stay in the competition.

"It's a mindset change. We try to manage the players and give them extra time off to spend with their families."

In Friday's other local derby, the Stormers will host the Bulls in a repeat of the 2020/21 final. 

Teams:

Sharks

TBA

Lions

15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Edwill van der Merwe, 13 Rynhardt Jonker, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Quan Horn, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Ruan Venter, 7 Darrien Landsberg, 6 Emmanuel Tshituka, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel (captain), 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 2 PJ Botha, 1 JP Smith 

Substitutes: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Pieter Jansen van Vuren, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Andre Warner, 22 Gianni Lombard, 23 Stean Pienaar

Friday fixtures:

Sharks v Lions - 17:00

Stormers v Bulls - 19:15

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