Despite the loss to the Sharks two weeks ago, Lions coach Loffie Eloff says his team will go into the semi with the belief they can surprise the hosts.
The Lions head to Kings Park with four Springboks in their squad, with only Jaque Fourie currently involved in the national set-up. Conversely, the Sharks are littered with game breakers from 1-22, which includes 15 Boks and French international Freddie Michalak.
To say the Lions travel to Durban as underdogs would be an understatement of immense proportions.
Although the Lions were downed 34-20 at home in the penultimate round of the league stages in the Absa Currie Cup, Eloff feels there was enough in that showing to give his team the hope they can cause an upset. The Lions led 13-10 on the hour-mark until Earl Rose gifted the Sharks 14 points in three minutes, while his team-mates also began to slip off tackles.
“That match didn’t give us ultimate confidence but it did give the players the belief that it’s possible to beat the Sharks and compete with teams full of Springboks,” Eloff told keo.co.za.
Eloff has drawn last year’s World Cup as inspiration for the less-fancied sides to surprise their more illustrious opponents. “Semis are very different and anyone can win it. The dynamic shifts in a once-off match and puts much more pressure on sides knowing you could get knocked out.”
In play-off situations defence is highly integral in a team’s success. Eloff is content with this aspect of their game, but admits they can’t defend for most of the match – like they did against Western Province – and must do some attacking of their own.
“We had a fair amount of ball against the Sharks in Jo’burg, but we must get our hands on the ball more often than we did last weekend. From there we want to attack from the right areas,” he said.
Playing in Sharks territory will be key, but Eloff acknowledges tactical kicking hasn’t been the best aspect of the Lions’ play. Any aimless use of the boot will be punished by the Sharks’ counter-attack, while Frans Steyn’s long range drop-kicking needs no elaboration.
“We’ve possibly kicked too much in the past, and haven’t been as good tactically as we could have. You don’t want to kick for the sake of it and give the ball away,” said Eloff.
The Lions have talked a good game in terms of not making mistakes and having the correct tactical approach to play-off rugby. Saturday will prove whether the players can put these elements into practice out on the Kings Park pitch.
By Grant Ball