Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

Lions hope to be first SA team to beat Connacht in URC

“Andy (Friend, Connacht coach) made it quite clear that their target is to beat all four South African teams."

The Lions are gunning for a bit of history on Saturday as they attempt to become the first South African team to beat Connacht in the United Rugby Championship, when the sides battle it out at Ellis Park (kick-off 4:05pm).

Connacht are currently two for two against SA opposition, although both of those results came at home at the Sportsground in Galway.

Early in the season last year they comfortably beat the Bulls 34-7 and then impressively dealt the Stormers their only loss this year, beating them 19-17 without their internationals who were on Six Nations duty.

So it will be a tricky encounter for the Lions, but one they will be relishing as they look to keep their unblemished record against overseas opposition at Ellis Park intact.

‘Typical Irish team’

“Andy (Friend, Connacht coach) made it quite clear that their target is to beat all four South African teams. So I think they’re going to be really determined against us, which is their first match against a South African team in South Africa,” said Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen.

“They are a very dangerous team, they can punish and hurt you from turn over ball … typical Irish team where they want to keep the ball alive, they can threaten you with a good kicking game, but Connacht is end to end attack.

“I think there is a possible opportunity for us at set piece. But you first have to earn that right and Connacht has shown the whole season how mentally tough they are and that they are willing to grind for 80 minutes.”

Odendaal back in midfield

Lions captain Burger Odendaal returns to the fold after missing the past two games due to being a close Covid contact and he will be excited for a big midfield battle featuring Irish international Bundee Aki and Tom Daly.

“They are international players so it is a big challenge for myself and Wandi (Simelane) and Manny (Rass) on the bench. We want to test ourselves against the best in the competition. But we don’t want to focus too much on them,” said Odendaal.

“But it’s great to be back on the field with the boys. The Irish teams bring something different in the competition and it is going to be a big one for us. We’ve had a good few performances at home against the overseas opposition, so we just want to keep that momentum going.

“Hopefully the weather plays its part. They are a very attack minded team, so if the weather plays along I think it’s going to be a cracker. “

End on a high

The Lions are effectively out of the running for the URC play-offs, with a top eight finish extremely unlikely, but they will be eager to end their first stint in the competition on a high.

“Three games left for us, I think it’s really important for us to finish well. I think we are just outside of a chance to reach the top eight. But top 10 is still available and you want to finish as high as possible on the log,” said Van Rooyen.

“I think the next two weekends we are playing against teams that are just ahead of us. So it is important for us to keep on building, keep on getting momentum, focus on ourselves and keep going forward.”

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