Jacques van der Westhuyzen
Head of Sport
2 minute read
24 Sep 2021
7:57 am

Lions in the spotlight as SA Rugby franchises enter new world

Jacques van der Westhuyzen

Ivan van Rooyen and his charges will be desperate to get off to a winning start against one of the weaker teams.

Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen will be keen to get off to a good start in the United Rugby Championship, when his side take on Zebre in Parma on Friday evening. Picture: Frikkie Kapp/Gallo Images

After a dismal Currie Cup campaign, in which they didn’t even threaten to make the playoffs, the Lions will be out to show they can mix it with the big boys when they kick off South Africa’s United Rugby Championship challenge on Friday evening.

Ivan van Rooyen’s team will be the first to brave the new world SA Rugby have decided on after opting to withdraw from Super Rugby last year.

The Lions – Super Rugby runners-up in 2016, 2017 and 2018 – have fallen on hard times, but get a chance to kick off their four-match tour of Europe on a high when they come up against lowly Italian side, Zebre, in Parma on Friday evening, kick-off at 6.35pm.

The Lions have admitted they know little about their opponents, but that suits them just fine it seems, as Van Rooyen and Co will be far more concerned with how the Joburg-based side go first-up.

“We’ve had good, hard, honest output in the last two weeks (since the Currie Cup) and are focused on what we need to do,” said Van Rooyen ahead of the game.

“This match is about us… it’s about getting clarity, doing the simple things right and serving our interests.

“There’s certainly a possibility we’ll be more conservative than before; we want to keep it simple and basic.”

Return of Kriel

The majority of the Lions players are touring for the first time, with many possibly having never visited Parma before and now they’ll also be playing in front of fans again – something they haven’t done for 18 months.

The good news is there’s a fair bit of experience in the side too, with the likes of Ruan Dreyer, Jaco Kriel, Burger Odendaal and Jamba Ulengo having all experienced long tours during Super Rugby.

Kriel’s availability and return to the side after a lengthy injury-absence is a big boost.

“It’s good to have him back,” said Van Rooyen.

“I’ll probably pull him off after 40 or 50 minutes… his knees and ankles need a bit of oil still, but he’ll bring calm, leadership and experience to the game.

“You can feel his influence in the squad; and that’s nice to have.”

Good weather is expected for the match; a real chance for the Lions to start on a good note.

Zebre may be an unknown entity for the visitors, but some of the tourists will know Johan Meyer and Erich Cronje – the two South Africans in the home side’s outfit.