Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

Lions ticking all the right boxes — but expectations must be tempered

A demanding second half of the season awaits Ivan van Rooyen and his team.

It has been an impressive season so far for the Lions and a lot of noise is rightly being made about their superb current form and how far they can go in the two major competitions they are playing in, but fans and pundits alike must temper their expectations.

It was initially a difficult start to the season for the Lions, with them losing four of their first five games in the United Rugby Championship (URC), but the manner of those defeats was encouraging as they were well in the game in each of them.

They will have been disappointed to have gone down 35-33 to a Springbok-less Stormers team at Ellis Park in their opening match and followed that up with a 17-16 loss to Edinburgh in Scotland and 15-10 defeat to Benetton in Italy — all games they could have won.

They finally got their first win by stunning Scarlets in Wales with a late show to sneak a 24-23 result and followed that up with another promising performance by pushing Ulster all the way in Ireland, leading them 14-7 at halftime before falling to a 24-17 defeat.

Home soil

On their return home the Lions have turned up the heat and produced a superb run of form that saw them win five straight games in the URC and Challenge Cup, before a second string side came unstuck against Montpellier in France on Saturday.

They started that run with a thumping 61-19 win over Zebre and followed that up by hammering Dragons 49-24 despite being reduced to 14-men for over half the match due to a first half red card.

They then sent a second string side to France for their Challenge Cup clash against Perpignan where they superbly won 28-12, before their full strength side was given a slight test but eventually cruised to a 35-13 win over Newcastle Falcons.

Back in the URC last weekend they stunned the Sharks 20-18 at King’s Park, registering their first win in Durban since 2017. And then despite the defeat to Montpellier this last Saturday, the Lions still looked good with several first choice men missing.


This has rightfully seen a lot of positive things said about the Lions, but from now it doesn’t get any easier for them.

In the URC the Lions, who are 11th on the log with a game in hand, have already played four of the five teams below them, with only a home game against Cardiff still to look forward to.

The rest of their games are all against teams above them, including four local derbies, two against the Bulls, one away against the Stormers and a home game against the Sharks.

They also face a tricky away tour with games against Connacht in Ireland and Ospreys in Wales, while they face tough home encounters against Irish giants Leinster and Munster.

It is thus set to be a tough second half of the season in the URC and the Lions will have to be at the top of their game to continue their growth and development as a side that wants to be challenging for titles.

In the Challenge Cup the Lions are in a good position to do well, and they will be back to full strength and favourites for their home game against Ospreys this weekend and should thus be well placed for the knockouts.

In all, the Lions have set themselves up well on two fronts, but cannot rest on their laurels and have to continue their top recent form if they are to turn it into what could become a fantastic season.

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