A 17-day break between their final round robin fixture and a Currie Cup semi-final against the Bulls might not prove particularly ideal, but Willem Alberts is encouraged by the growth shown by the Lions in the current domestic campaign.
The 36-year-old utility forward, who returned to Ellis Park in early 2020 after a four-year stint in France with Stade Francais, has reminded all of his continued worth, playing a starring role in his team’s march to the tournament’s playoffs, which included five consecutive victories.
The Lions’ resurgence has been in stark contrast to the start of last year, where a team and coaching staff in transition stumbled to five losses from six starts in Super Rugby. Yet, as it turned out, all the franchise required was a purposeful lockdown-period recruitment spree and some time to take stock.
“It’s really great being part of an up and coming and exciting Lions team,” Alberts, who started his professional career in Doornfontein before becoming a Springbok at the Sharks, told Sport24 .
“There’s a brilliant mix of talent and experience in this group. I think the one thing the season taught us is that it takes a bit of time for a team to get its rhythm.
“But once we got it towards the end of the Super Rugby Unlocked campaign, we’ve really started to play a nice brand of rugby.”
Indeed, one of the hallmarks of the Lions’ Currie Cup assault has been a newfound ability to adopt a more pragmatic approach when the going gets too tough for their famed expansive game. That was evident in gritty victories over Western Province and the Sharks, where their pack stood up well, and became a symphony away to the Cheetahs as forward robustness was combined with some fine attacking play.
“It shows you again that when a team starts finding its feet and its players start playing for each other, then positive overall results almost come by itself,” said Alberts.
“We’ve always had the potential and ability to make an impact, we just didn’t execute the right things at the most appropriate time. The last six weeks has been very satisfying. We’ve worked hard to see our efforts bear fruit.”
As a former pupil from Monument, an institution synonymous with the fabric of Lions rugby, the man known as the “Bone Collector” is particularly pleased to be helping write this new chapter, particularly with a new brigade of Wit Bulle in MJ Pelser, Ruan Dreyer, Len Massyn, Nathan McBeth, Burger Odendaal and scrum coach Julian Redelinghuys in tow.
“I’ve come full circle, I started my professional career here and I’m probably going to end it here too,” said Alberts. “It’s really nice working with all my younger Monnas team-mates. I love mixing with these guys. They love the game. ”