Lions still alive, but face uphill battle

rugby13 May 2024 05:00
By:Brenden Nel
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Emmanuel Tshituka celebrate with team-mates © Gallo Images

An uphill battle but still alive. That’s the message from Emirates Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen after his side’s bonus point win over Cardiff Rugby this past weekend at Emirates Airline Park.

While the brace from Emmanuel Tshituka kept the Lions’ hopes alive of a top-eight spot and making the playoffs of the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, the second-half lull almost cost them before the flanker arrived with the replacements to up the ante.

At that stage, it seemed like Cardiff were clawing their way back into the game.

But Tshituka’s eye-popping impact made all the difference as he scored a brace and took them beyond the four-try mark to get the bonus point.


And now with two rounds left, the uphill battle doesn’t get any easier as they face Glasgow Warriors this weekend in a crucial clash for points.

The Warriors have been exceptionally consistent this season, something the Lions have lacked and the two points they grabbed at Loftus Versfeld with a late rally probably means they have a better-than-average chance of finishing top of the table if they continue on this route.

That means they would have targeted the game against the Lions this coming Saturday as one they aim to take full points home with them.

If that happens, it would not only be the death blow for the Lions' chances, but it would leave them with only a mathematical chance and relying on other results to make the top eight.


So this weekend’s game is a fight for survival for the Lions, who know that with the top eight comes qualification for the Investec Champions’ Cup as well, which will be a massive bonus for them.

And the best possible news for them is that they will be at home in front of their own fans when they face Glasgow, who will be banking on a 10-day stay at altitude to give them a lift at the iconic Johannesburg stadium.

“We are still alive,” Coach Ivan van Rooyen was smiling as he spoke after the game.

“Looking at the other results, you don’t want to drop the ball. We probably need about 11 points out of the last three games, so yes there is a lot of work, but it’s five points.”


The problem is that those other six points won’t be easy. Glasgow are aiming to keep their top spot and the Lions’ last opponent, the DHL Stormers, are also desperate for points in their last home game to ensure they finish as high up on the log as possible.

So while they are still alive, the mountain they need to climb will require a character internalisation that we haven’t seen for consecutive weeks in a Lions squad this season, but it isn’t impossible.

Van Rooyen knows well that the team will face a tougher opponent on Saturday and as such, will need to up their performance if they are to achieve their aim.

“I think the players will feel the same. I think we can be more clinical. I think we have to sharpen up our tight phases.


“We saw what Glasgow could do against the Bulls – how they fought back. They are a proud team and they are leading the points table, so we know it’s going to take a huge effort from us. But we are alive and that gives us a chance and hope.”

The Lions will regroup on Monday with Richard Kriel, who left the field with a hamstring injury, their only real concern ahead of a tough week.

And their focus is simple. They need to deliver a performance worthy of the top eight spot if they are to keep their dreams alive for another week. And hope that the inconsistency is a thing of the past.