Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

Lions eager to turn close losses into wins on return to SA

"There is great fight and great character in the team and a lot to get excited about."

The Lions once again came close but ended up on the losing side after they closed out their first European tour of the current United Rugby Championship (URC) season with a 24-17 defeat to Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on Friday night.

It was their fourth loss in five matches so far this season and was their third loss from four tour games, making for a disappointing start to their campaign.

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However, every loss has come by seven points or less, meaning that the Lions have walked away with at least one losing bonus point in each match, while their sole win was also by a solitary point, when they beat Scarlets 24-23 in Llanelli.

Their other defeats were by 35-33 against the Stormers at Ellis Park, by 17-16 against Edinburgh in Scotland and by 15-10 against Benetton in Treviso.

Although they are firmly in the bottom half of the table, the five bonus points picked up from their losses, on top of the four picked up from their sole win, means the Lions are still within range of a number of teams above them.

Have what it takes

Coach Ivan van Rooyen believes that his side have shown that they have what it takes to stay with some of the top sides in the URC and if his team can get those results in their favour, they are well in with a shout of finishing in the top half of the table.

“I think we are good enough to compete and I think we are good enough to turn things around and make the top four or five in the competition,” said Van Rooyen about his charges efforts after the Ulster loss.

“There are some individual and system errors we still need to work on. But there is great fight and great character in the team and a lot to get excited about. We now need to convert that into wins.”

Speaking about the Ulster game, Van Rooyen claimed that his team had done enough to be able to get the win, and that it was just a few crucial moments that cost them in the end.

“We are obviously disappointed with the result. We felt we were really in the game and gave ourselves an opportunity to come away with a historic win. We were probably one kick off receive and two scrum penalties away from that,” said Van Rooyen.

“I am immensely proud of the fight shown by the guys and the way they adapted to the conditions. The physicality and tempo that we played with really put them under pressure. But we fell just short with our ability to finish off those big moments.”

Back to SA

The Lions now head back to SA where they have a great chance of building some confidence and momentum as they face two of the weaker teams in the competition in Zebre and Dragons over the next two weekends.

“We are excited to come back home. We have two URC games and then two EPCR (Challenge Cup) games, so there is a lot to look forward to,” said Van Rooyen.

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