Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer


Lions disappointed but excited for future after tough URC season

Ivan van Rooyen believes his side have made significant steps towards reaching their main goal of a place in the knockouts.


Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen admitted that they are disappointed with where they finished in the United Rugby Championship (URC) this season, but were excited for the future after making positive gains over their third campaign in the competition.

The Lions just missed out on their main goal of reaching the URC playoffs, ending ninth on the log, level on points with eighth placed Ospreys, but missed out due to having fewer wins than the Welsh side.

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It has thus been three consecutive seasons of finishing outside of the competition top eight, but Van Rooyen believes his side have made significant steps towards reaching their main goal of a place in the knockouts.

Lions goals

“We had set ourselves goals ahead of the season of which we feel we achieved the majority of them. Obviously top eight qualification was the main one so we are disappointed to not have achieved that,” explained Van Rooyen.

“But apart from that, we have grown leaps and bounds from the inaugural season both on and off the field, so we feel we have ticked a few crucial boxes this season, which was testament to the hard yards put in over the past two seasons.”

The one major factor in the Lions not reaching the playoffs was the inconsistency shown by them over the season, which was evidenced in certain games, such as losing to Ospreys in Swansea after a massive win over Connacht in Galway, and going down heavily to Munster after thumping Leinster.

 “The win against Connacht probably took more out of our legs than what we had expected, we were really flat in the first half (against Ospreys) and ran out of time to get the result we wanted,” said Van Rooyen.

“Against Munster they tactically were better than us on the day. They showed why they finished the season on top of the log. 

“So it has never been due to a lack of intent or trying, rather tactical learnings for us as a group. With us picking up six losing bonus points (this season) we know that we are really close to where we want to be. We are looking forward to see if we can turn those small margins in our favour next season.”

Proud moment

 A proud moment for the Lions was seeing in-form utility back Sanele Nohamba being nominated for the SA URC Player of the Season award, with him up against the Bulls duo of Kurt-Lee Arendse and Cameron Hanekom for the honour.

“Sanele’s performances have been outstanding this season and have been supported by the players around him. A nomination of this magnitude is huge for him personally and for us as a franchise,” said Van Rooyen.

The Lions will now have a bit of a rebuild ahead of next season with them losing two massive players in loose forward Emmanuel Tshituka and flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse who have both opted to head down to Durban to join up with the Sharks.

 “Jordan and Emmanuel have been immense for the Lions. Coming through our junior system and contributing at senior level has been nothing short of remarkable. We are disappointed to see them go but we wish them well as they continue their journeys in Durban,” admitted Van Rooyen.

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