South Africa | Lions' new definition of 'having a crack' is credit to Ivan van Rooyen's thinking

If any previous Lions head coach had told they were "going to have a crack" against the Bulls in Saturday's Currie Cup semi-final at Loftus, it would probably be interpreted as "we're going to attack at all costs".

It's an understandable perception, particularly given how Swys de Bruin - in his two years as Super Rugby mentor - enjoyed raving about scoring tries.

But when Ivan van Rooyen uses the phrase, you can bet it's going to take on a different meaning.

And that's no bad thing.



15 David Kriel, 14 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 13 Stedman Gans, 12 Cornal Hendricks, 11 Stravino Jacobs, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Elrigh Louw, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Sintu Manjezi, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Erasmus, 1 Lizo Gqoboka

Substitutes: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Mornay Smith, 19 Jan Uys, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Marco Jansen van Vuren


15 Tiaan Swanepoel, 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies (captain), 9 Andre Warner, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Sti Sithole

Substitutes: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 21 Morne van den Berg, 22 Dan Kriel, 23 Francke Horn, 24 Nathan McBeth, 25 EW Viljoen, 26 Ross Cronje

"We're keen to go to Loftus and see if we can put the Bulls under pressure," said the Lions coach.

"We played them twice and came close twice. The learnings from the previous meeting (lost 15-22 at Loftus) was that we allowed them to dictate the tempo."

That's where the thought of "having a crack" comes in.

Yet there's a caveat.

"Doing so doesn't mean just throwing the ball around," said Van Rooyen.

"Having a crack is seeing if we can dictate the tempo a little bit. If we feel we have forward dominance, how can we exert it further?

"If we feel they put us under big pressure on defence, how can we transition that to maybe a kicking game? It's about being able to apply pressure in different ways. 

"We really had a good review of our previous game and we're excited to see how we can do it this weekend."

Such pragmatism bodes well for the Lions, who've clearly realised that their future in Europe won't be particularly viable if they can't find a balance to their approach.

It's all part of a fruitful journey Van Rooyen and his troops have embarked on since the dark days of last year's truncated Super Rugby campaign.

"The way we've had to adapt our training regime, to take into account Covid protocols and wearing masks all the time, built character on its own," said Van Rooyen.

"When we re-started, we realised that we have a much-changed team to what we had about a year ago. Our ability to adapt and play a different game has certainly improved too.

"There's really a good spirit in the team. Adaptability is a weekly theme for us. We're always identifying issues and working on solutions. I'm really keen to see how we showcase it this weekend."

However, the Lions' fluid plan was still picked apart by Jake White, Van Rooyen's direct counterpart on Saturday.

While he doesn't necessarily paint it that way, the Bulls' director of rugby enjoys a bit of mind games.

"When I look at the Lions, I see six forwards on the bench so that’s how they’re going to finish and I don’t think those guys have played a game together as a pack," said White.

"They said they might be running the ball, but they only have two backs on the bench. So it’s going to be hard for them to play from side-to-side and it’s a big risk with six forwards who haven’t played together before.

“So that will present opportunities for us as well, our preparation has been very good and we are full of confidence. We’ve won most second halves in the matches we’ve played, so by that measure we are a team that finishes well."

Only time will tell.

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