Van Rooyen: We were beaten by a better team

Sigma Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen has rued his side’s errors in going down 14-56 to the British & Irish Lions in the tour opener in Johannesburg.

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The local Lions produced a lacklustre performance and ultimately came unstuck in the second half as the tourists ran in tries with ease against a porous defence. Van Rooyen, however, says the gap between the sides was not as big as the scoreboard suggested.

“It looked like and felt like their speed caught us offside. That’s a big lesson. It’s not that they’re running quicker, it’s that they’re getting to rucks quicker and then catching us on the next phase.

“They gave us a different picture in defence tonight compared to Japan. They brought a lot of linespeed and their decision-making at ruck time gives the time and an ability to get into space. 

“We were beaten tonight by a better team but the gap isn’t as big as the scoreboard suggests.”

The B&I Lions showed no signs of rustiness as they looked a polished and cohesive outfit. Wing Josh Adams scored four tries and looked indomitable throughout. Van Rooyen, however, thinks his side could have done more to pressure the tourists.

“I think it started at set piece, we didn’t set fast enough and we were caught offside and then we had to scramble. So, we couldn’t get linespeed. The times we did get linespeed we could put them under pressure. 

“I think speaking to the guys, the collisions weren’t higher than we expected but the speed of execution and level of decision-making definitely higher than what we are used to.” 

Looking ahead to the upcoming United Rugby Championship, Van Rooyen feels that this game will be good preparation for his players and had they been exposed to the European competition earlier they may have been more competitive.

“European teams’ kicking game is a lot more polished. Their kicking from nine is always accurate and they always have great chasers. It’s probably more accurate than what we have in South Africa. So, in the bigger picture, if we had played against teams overseas then maybe we would have been better prepared.”

Taking some of the positives, the Lions coach was quick to praise his youthful loose trio and tips them for big futures.

“There’s a lot of young players who showed a lot of potential. A game like tonight can kickstart their career and hopefully one day when they are playing internationals they can look back and see that they were close but not quite there yet. 

“I’m immensely proud of the effort [of the back row], their work rate off the ball, their care for one another. Even in a hiding, there are a lot of positives.” 

Looking ahead to the rest of the Lions series, Van Rooyen says he supports the rest of the domestic coaches as well as the Boks.

“They [the B&I Lions] showed a different picture tonight compared to Japan. And now it’s another 80 minutes for Jake [White], Sean [Everitt] and Dobbo [John Dobson] to analyse. Will I back an SA team to beat them? Of course I will! Our blood at the Lions is red but also green. I think it’s going to be an unbelievable Test series.”