Conceding 26 unanswered points in the latter stages of their match against Zebre last Friday was a blessing for the Lions, said forwards coach Albert van den Berg on Monday.
In a bizarre 80 minutes in the teams’ opening match of the new United Rugby Championship, the Lions scored five tries in the first half and added a penalty just after the break to be 38-0 up against all odds against the Italians, and they looked like they were on their way to a resounding win.
But Zebre hit back in some style, scoring four tries of their own in a little over 12 minutes in the second period to be 38-26 down with 15 minutes to play.
The Lions were given an almighty scare and thankfully for them, they managed to hang on for a win – the only South African team to do so on the opening weekend.
“That second half was a blessing,” said Van den Berg on Monday, “because things nearly went too well for us in the first half.
“What we’ve learned is we have to play for 80 minutes, not two halves.
“We certainly didn’t want a 60-point win and think everything is working for us; that would do us no good. What happened made us realise we still have plenty of work to do in many areas.”
Van den Berg said the players simply had to get on the same page and ensure they all understood the detail of what was required.
“We’ve got the players, the quality, the power, but we have to learn to finish off as strongly as we start games,” said the former Bok lock.
“The players need to learn to take every opportunity that arises and to play at a high intensity throughout the match.”
Van den Berg said the fact the Lions nearly came unstuck and the other three local sides – the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers – lost to their opponents was something of a wake-up call for the South Africans.
“The gap between South African rugby and European rugby is not as big as what everyone thought,” he said.
“We all knew the Super Rugby sides and their players, but this is now a new challenge, with different teams who have different qualities. Every week is a new challenge… and most of the teams we’re up against are full of internationals.
“This is going to be a hard, competitive competition, but it’s also going to be nice when we welcome these teams to our home grounds.”
The Lions are next up against Scarlets of Wales. They travel to Swansea from Parma on Tuesday.