Golden Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen says while it’s in their DNA to play an expansive game, they have prepared for a bruising forward battle at Kings Park on Saturday.
The Sharks beat the Lions 37-21 in a league fixture at the same venue four weeks ago. At that stage, Van Rooyen’s men ran the risk of not qualifying for the semi-finals, but a win against the Pumas secured a rematch with the Sharks.
The Lions have been boosted by the return of Springboks Aphiwe Dyantyi, Lionel Mapoe, Elton Jantjies and Warren Whiteley, which changes the complexion of their side and Saturday’s clash.
On Thursday, Van Rooyen explained that while he expects his charges to inject entertainment and excitement into the game, they have prepared rigorously for a tight, physical contest.
‘Obviously, we’re expecting excitement on attack, but accurate decision-making and good execution will be key. We know it’s coming [a physical Sharks forward attack] and have prepared for that and have got a plan or two of our own.
‘Rugby is still 15 against 15, otherwise it would be called touchies. We’ll stick to our DNA, but have prepared certain plans that we must just go and execute. Did we pick a team specifically for that? Not necessarily. Did we prepare for that? Yeah, I think we’ll a lot better this time.’
The coach reiterated that their returning Test players have contributed in a big way to the renewed self-belief and heightened confidence within the team.
‘They make a positive impact. They’ve all experienced pressure before, it’s not new for them and we’ll be looking to them to be the guys who stand up. It’s nice to have them back.’
Van Rooyen is particularly pleased to have Whiteley back in the side.
‘Warren has been training well with us for two weeks now, so fitness-wise it’s nice to have him back. Then obviously, as a leader and a human being, he is priceless for us. He brings a calmness for us and we’re looking forward to having him back in the team.’
Despite Whiteley’s inclusion in the starting lineup, scrumhalf Nic Groom has retained the captaincy. Explaining the reasoning behind that call, Van Rooyen says that the decision was made for the sake of continuity, especially since it is unclear whether Whiteley will be available to play if the Lions upset the Sharks and reach the final.
‘We believe that Nic is our captain now, but Warren will assist him anyway. Next week we’ll see who’s available and who’s not. For us it’s just logical to keep Nic because Warren might not be available next week.’
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