Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

Lions boosted by playing their own way in the URC

Returning to the exciting running game for which they are better known has paid dividends for the Lions.

The Lions have been boosted by going back to their DNA in the way that they play, which has resulted in two big bonus-point wins in the United Rugby Championship (URC) that have boosted their playoff prospects.

Heading into March the Lions were on a four-game losing run in all competitions and were precariously placed at 11th on the URC log.

In their previous two URC games (before March) they had been beaten by their closest rivals the Bulls, 30-28 at Loftus and then 25-10 at Ellis Park, and in both encounters the Lions were guilty of kicking a lot more than usual which led to them scoring just four tries in those games.

But they have since turned it around in spectacular style, picking up thumping bonus-point wins over the Sharks (40-10 at Ellis Park), and against Connacht (38-14 in Galway) while running in 12 tries between the two games.

It has been a stunning return to the exciting running game for which they are better known and has paid dividends as they have powered their way to eighth on the URC log and into playoff contention.

Lions wing Edwill van der Merwe, who scored a superb intercept try against Connacht on Saturday, said the team hadn’t really changed the way they play, but had been reminded to play to their strengths.

Changing their mindset

“It is more the coaches just reminding us to play the way that we want to play. Just because we are adding a tool to our box doesn’t mean we have to kick the whole time,” explained Van Der Merwe.

“That was a bit of the mindset we had in our previous games (against the Bulls). When we worked a bit more on our individual kicking we started kicking a lot more, and the coaches just reminded us that it’s just a tool that we are adding to the box.

“It’s not something we have to do the whole time. We must just play the way that the Lions want to play.

“Personally, for me as a wing I really enjoy the way we are playing now. Getting the ball a lot more, being involved in the game, and that’s the way I love to play. So I am very happy with our mindset right now.”

Successful tourists

Over their two-and-a-half seasons in the URC so far, the Lions have become a really good touring team and Van der Merwe admitted that being away from home seemed to bring them together more as a group and allowed them to focus fully on the job at hand.

“When you’re on tour it’s just the 28 guys and the coaching staff. There is no real other support behind us. Here and there you see a few people who come out to watch us with Lions jerseys,” said Van Der Merwe.

“But at the end of the day it’s just us and I think that brings us closer as a group and allows us to just execute the mission.”

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