Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

Lions return to URC action and they’re gearing up for tough few weeks

The Lions now have five pool games left in the URC, and if they do not make the top eight that will be the end of their season.

The Lions are gearing up for a tough end of season run in, with their full focus on making a play for the United Rugby Championship (URC) top eight over the next month and a half.

They’re back in Johannesburg after a disappointing overseas tour when they were last in action a few weeks ago, where they stunned Connacht in Galway in the URC, but followed that up with a loss against Ospreys in Swansea and then were knocked out of the Challenge Cup by Benetton in Treviso.

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The Lions now have five pool games left in the URC, and if they do not make the top eight that will be the end of their season.

Irish giants

They start off with two huge games against Irish giants Leinster and Munster, followed by Welsh side Cardiff and Scottish giants Glasgow Warriors, all at Ellis Park, before they close out their pool campaign against the Stormers in Cape Town.

The 11th placed Lions will need to pick up at least three wins from those five games, while also hoping other results go their way, to stand any chance of finishing in the top half of the table and qualifying for the playoffs.

“It is going to be a tough few weeks but we are prepared for it. Looking at the fixtures at the start of the season we knew what we were in for, especially in this end of season run in. We just have to stay focused on our goal of making the playoffs,” said Lions captain Marius Louw.

Louw admitted that the Lions were disappointed with their efforts overseas over the past month, after they got off to a flying start by becoming the first South African team to win a match in Galway, which they managed to do with 14-men after an early red card.

Wasted momentum

But they wasted that good momentum by following up with two poor performances against Ospreys and Benetton to head back to SA a week earlier than they would have liked, and they now need to pick themselves back up.

“The Connacht victory was a fantastic start to our tour. Even though we lost Asa (Asenathi Ntlabakanye) early in the encounter, the guys showed real energy and determination over the rest of the game. We were really proud of that effort,” said Louw.

“Unfortunately we couldn’t repeat that performance against Ospreys, although we felt that it was a game that we could’ve won. At the end we started to play a bit and the guys fought well, but it wasn’t enough.

“We are disappointed for sure (getting knocked out of Challenge Cup). We want to do well in every competition we participate in, so to come short against Benetton was disappointing. But that’s knockout rugby, you lose you go home.

“We were keen to capitalise on the good start we had in the competition. But unfortunately it was not meant to be.”