Mitchell happy with Lions Currie Cup form

Lions coach John Mitchell admitted he was very pleased with the 36-27 Currie Cup win over the Blue Bulls and the character shown by his players.

The Lions are the only unbeaten team in this season’s Currie Cup but while it might have been expected that they would beat the Pumas, Griquas and Leopards their victory over the Blue Bulls at Loftus shows they mean business this year.

“I’m bloody happy, but there is a long way to go and there’s a lot improvement left in us,” Mitchell said on the Lions site.

“It was a good performance. In the first half we made it difficult through errors of our own, but in the second half we improved that and our defence was good. We deliberately attacked their breakdowns and that pressure helped us.”

Michell obviously feels that the team is at last coming together – and continuity now that injuries are less play a huge role in this.

“If you look at the history since I have been here, I had to find out what the best mix of players were. We went through the Super Rugby series where injuries forced us to change the side a bit.

“But we have been able to stick to the same mix recently and that helps with cohesion. The guys know each other well now and they know each others idiosyncrysys,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell was very impressed with the halfbacks, Elton Jantjies and also Michael Bondesio who now has to fill the big boots of scrumhalf Jano Vermaak who is moving to the Blue Bulls.

“I thought Elton and Michael were both exceptional. Michael is quick, he is a good talker on defence and he has huge potential. He hasn’t played 80 minutes for some time, so he will grow. He is probably still a bit rusty,” Mitchell said.

His captain Josh Strauss said he opted to go for lineouts instead of gaoling penalties on a number of occasions “because we had the momentum.”

Strauss did not say it in so many words, but the Blue Bulls were at that stage, just after halftime in disarray at the breakdown and repeatedly infringed – and with the following team warning from referee Jaco Peyper, Strauss probably felt that the driving mauls were bound to produce either a try or a yellow card.

And the latter is exactly what happened when Blue Bulls lock Flip van der Merwe was sent off with a yellow card and later with a red after infringing a second time.

– The return of Elton Jantjies as a match-winning goal kicker on Saturday was interesting – as was the explanation given by Mitchell after an eight from nine record with the missing kick striking the upright. Jantjies kicked three conversions and five penalties for a contribution of 21 points.

“Elton has changed back to his natural kicking style,” Mitchell said. Tinkering with his natural kicking style was necessary because of the exceptional strain his kicking style places on his groin.

Jantjies has now reverted to his old style – and special exercises have been prescribed for him to prevent a recurrence of the groin strain.

– Waylon Murray, running for the line, was mown down by a knee injury without a tackler being responsible – and it could prove to be a serious and long-term blow for the player and for the team. “It is acute and at this stage things don’t look good for him,” said Mitchell an hour after the match.

However, from a team perspective Doppies la Grange could be ready as soon as next weekend when the Lions play the Free State Cheetahs at Coca-Cola Park. Failing that, Mitchell said, he was confident that La Grange would be fit for the Western Province match the following Friday night at Newlands.

“Doppies could be right for the next game. But we will not take any risks. We have Dylan (Des Fountain) and Jaco (Taute) who can play outside centre and Jannie Boshoff can come back into the fold,” Mitchell said – and to add to that, there was the further good news for the Lions that fullback James Kamana is nearly fit again

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