Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

Can Scarlets win set Lions up for Ulster upset in URC?

Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen believes his side have come right at a great time to challenge Ulster.

The Lions are hoping their first win of the season, against Scarlets over the weekend, will give them enough confidence and momentum to possibly upset Irish giants Ulster in their United Rugby Championship (URC) clash at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast on Friday night.

Having lost their opening three matches by tight margins, the Lions overturned that poor start with a tight win of their own, beating their Scottish hosts 24-23 to break their duck at the fourth time of asking.

However, they now face a daunting challenge to finish their European tour on a high against in-form Ulster who have lost only once so far this season, by two points away against Connacht, and head into the match off an impressive 21-14 win over defending champs Munster.

Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen knows they are in for an uphill battle, but he believes his side have come right at the perfect time to give Ulster a proper challenge.

“Any win is good, especially away from home in tough European conditions, it is even better,” Van Rooyen said after their victory over Scarlets.

“We know it is going to be tough at Ulster but there has almost been a momentum shift, and the positive talk and energy is already different. We will get a bit of confidence out of this but it’s an important week (for us) to prep well.”

Tight defeats

The Lions’ three losses this season came against the Stormers by two points, against Edinburgh by one point and against Benetton by five points, showing that they were well in the fight on each occasion, and they finally managed to get over the line against Scarlets.

If they can take the game down to the wire against Ulster as well, they will know exactly what they need to do to get the win.

“That is the difference in a competition like this. It is small margins. Luckily (against Scarlets) it was on our side. Last week (against Benetton) it wasn’t but we gave ourselves an opportunity. We got stuck in there every time we conceded points, we applied pressure back onto them,” said Van Rooyen.

One of the selection decisions that paid off against Scarlets was shifting regular scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba to flyhalf for the game. He responded with a man-of-the-match performance and it will be interesting to see if he retains his place at 10 or if he will shift back to nine for Jordan Hendrikse.

“After winning you will always say you are glad it worked out. Between Morne (van den Bergh) and Sanele, they offered us something a bit different, kicking game and attack-wise,” Van Rooyen explained on the Nohamba decision.

“We will reassess for Ulster. Sanele is a quality player. He is a great rugby player and the more times we get the ball in his hands, the more decisions he can make, which is good.”

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