Lions are dark horses

After nine gruelling rounds of the Absa Currie Cup the Lions are making the most of the break and will intensify their efforts in the home straight.

The Lions have hardly looked threatening this season, but have come into their own in the last month. And with five matches left they could yet sneak into the play-offs, but are the dark horses to make the top four.

At the moment that dream still hangs by a thread. They trail the fourth placed Sharks by five points and have played an extra game. But such has been the nature of this competition that no team has been able to dominate completely.

“There are still five games left, so we cannot afford to let any chances slip now. If we play consistently, we can go through to the semi-finals,” captain Wikus van Heerden told keo.co.za.

One of the most pleasing aspects for the Lions in the three match winning streak has been the lack of panic, especially in the Blue Bulls and Sharks games. “We were concerned when they scored. But we knew we had to have patience.”

Said coach Eugene Eloff: “I was relieved more than anything else. This team really showed character. It wasn’t our best performance and we had a lot of opportunities close to the line. But to trail by six points with two minutes left, you need belief. They are really special players.”

“Wikus and Roland (Bernard) turned over possession five times in the last five minutes, which was vital in winning the game. But we made things tough for ourselves because there were opportunities early in the game that we should have finished off,” he said.

Perhaps the most important point was that the Lions may have unearthed a quality back-up at flyhalf for Andre Pretorius. In the past whenever Pretorius was absent the Lions struggled to fill the flyhalf berth.

Although it was just his first game at this level, Jaco van Schalkwyk, showed he has the temperament and overall skill to cope more than adequately at this level. He was injured before the end of the game, but should be fine for the Lions next match against the Cheetahs at Ellis Park.

“Jaco twisted his ankle, but he will definitely be available for the Cheetahs game. But I am very pleased with his performance. He was a little uncertain about playing wide and deep at that level. But he has a good foot, so now we should get him to kick,” said Eloff. “We will see how he is on Monday when we get together again.”

The only other player of concern is scrumhalf Jano Vermaak. “I am awaiting a second opinion on him and we will know next week. At the moment I am enjoying the break.”

By Andrew Hollely