Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen remained “proud” of his side for taking the Bulls close in the opening round of the Rainbow Cup, but ultimately succumbing to their fourth straight defeat at the hands of their neighbours.
Van Rooyen did admit that the coaching team would have to go “back to the drawing board” but tried to strike a positive note even though it seems the Lions are slipping behind the other three franchises in terms of strength.
Their next game is against the Sharks in Durban, and it would be an understatement to say the Lions will travel to the coast as underdogs, but Van Rooyen is still confident the young team he has put out against the Bulls can grow into something special.
“I think it wasn’t a pretty game, but a good intense battle. The Bulls managed to pin us in our own 22 in the last 20 minutes, then we made our way out, made an error and they kicked us back into it. I’m proud of the fight, the way they wanted to play and perform. I’m not happy with the loss, back to the drawing board for us and next week on to the next challenge.
“I’m impressed and proud. Our loose forward average age was 21, it is never nice to lose but there were a couple of youngsters who showed what they have got.”
The breakdown was one area the Lions excelled, especially with MJ Pelser leading the way and beating the Bulls to the ball for most of the game, but in the end it wasn’t enough.
Still, considering the Bulls sent most of their penalties to the sideline, the Lions did well to stop their rolling maul.
“We are working hard on the physical collisions, the guys fronted up well. Due to the errors and the way they played into our 22 I think we had something like eight maul stops, which something we’ve worked hard on.
“It wasn’t good enough in Currie Cup and Super Rugby Unlocked and we saw but physically I’m proud of the guys. The breakdown is something we are focusing on. It is a part of the game that is the most frequent, so whether we are attacking or defending, it is a focus area for us, and specifically more so for the South African teams.”
The likelihood is that some of the more experienced players, such as Willem Alberts and Burger Odendaal will be back for the Lions game this weekend, which should give them a bit more to counter the Sharks with.