Lions ready for a ‘huge step up’

Lions coach Eugene Eloff and stand-in captain Ernst Joubert has spoken of the need for their team to “raise the bar” ahead of their next assignment – a Super 14 Round Six encounter with the Blues.

Having completed the Australian leg of their road trip with back-to-back victories over Western Force and Reds – the first South African team ever to win two consecutive games in Australia – the Lions now head to Auckland where they tackle the table-topping Blues on Saturday.

The Lions’ two victories are remarkable in the sense that not only was it the first time an Ellis Park-based team – Lions or Cats – had won in Australia, but back-to-back victories on Australian soil have never been done by a South African franchise before.

The Stormers managed to win both their games in Australia last year, but the two wins (in Rounds eight and 11) were split by two defeats in New Zealand.

While the historic nature of their achievements have not slipped by Lions coach Eugene Eloff, he preferred to look ahead to the more demanding task ahead … the Blues.

“Yes, it is nice to have that [first SA team with back-to-back wins in Australia], but I’ve never been big on statistics,” Eloff told this website.

He said the Blues will present his team with a very different challenge.

“New Zealand teams are always tough. They like the ball on the front foot and they ;like to intimidate you.

“Luckily from my Under-19 days [with the national junior team], when we met them in finals, I’ve got the experience of having faced New Zealand teams and learnt how they play.

“You simply have to take the game to them and you have to defend well, because they can all step and run well,” Eloff said,

Joubert said the Blues will be a “tough” challenge, not just because they are top of the standings, but also because they play “brilliant” rugby.

“They’re playing authentic rugby,” he said of the Blues’ expansive style.

“We’ve done our part in Australia and hopefully we can do the same in New Zealand.

“Auckland is certainly a big one. They’re a well balanced side all over – they’ve got good basics, good runners, good offloads and we’ll have to make a huge step up.”

Eloff, who was obviously delighted that his team had once again confounded the critics who wrote them off before the season, said the most positive aspect of his team’s two-match trip in Australia was the “character” that the players showed in never giving up and twice coming from behind to clinch late wins – a one-point (25-24) triumph against the Force and a 26-20 win against the Reds.

“We weren’t given a chance [ahead of the game with the Reds at the weekend], but the one thing about this team is that they stick to their structure.”

But he also said his team has plenty of room for improvement ahead of the Blues game.

“I would still like to see us get more clinical and more accurate.

“I was very concerned in the first half [against the Reds] about the number of tackles we missed, but we sorted our defence out in the second half and we got momentum.

“We again left a couple of tries on the table, but every game is a step closer.

“I’m very happy with the win, but the manner in which it was achieved is not quite there yet.

“I also know that these are a bunch of young guys and that I must be patient with them. They are learning game for game.

“We are very happy to leave Australia with a 100 percent record, but that is not the level we want to play at. We want to get better,” Eloff said.

By Jan de Koning 365 Digital 

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