Easy to keep Lions in the hunt, says Barend Pieterse

Henco van Wyk of the Lions has been touted as a future Springbok

Henco van Wyk of the Lions has been touted as a future Springbok. Photo: Andrew Dowling/INPHO/Shutterstock via BackpagePix

Published Nov 30, 2023

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It is true that the Lions have been building a team for some time now, in a process that has been frustrating to watch and painful in many instances.

This Lions group will be the first to admit that perhaps they were just not good enough, and they let slip their momentum and confidence at the most crucial of moments and inappropriate times during past seasons.

Nevertheless, there is a growing sense that something wonderful is stirring in the halls of Doornfontein and that a team with a winning mentality – one that does not lack in self-belief and that can bounce back if ever there is a setback – is being constructed.

A team that might even have a future Springbok or two in it ...

The culture of taking nothing for granted continues to grow at the Lions, while the drive to improve on an individual level is positively beaming from the players.

Just ask Barend Pieterse, who recently joined the union as an assistant coach from the Griquas.

The former lock and his fellow coaches are working hard to ensure the Lions keep their momentum regarding their fitness and soft skills after their recent rout of Zebre.

After all, the Dragons await on Saturday at Ellis Park (5pm kick-off) in the United Rugby Championship (URC), which is another opportunity to dominate and propel the team towards their final goal.

Doing so won’t be too hard. In fact, it hasn’t been the case during the whole campaign, despite a tough start to the season that resulted in one victory after five games.

Said Pieterse this week: “It hasn’t been difficult to motivate the players after any game.

“All our losses were so close at the beginning. One of the positives that we took out of all the other games is that we got points.

“There was never, after a close loss, a need to motivate the guys. Instead, it is more about keeping their energy intact so that they keep that energy for Saturday.

“The Dragons are not lying great on the log (they are 15th), but again, they have quality players and a good system. I showed the guys, in terms of the set pieces, they’ve got a very good line-out.

“It is going to be a tough game. It is not a three o’clock game, where we can bargain on the sun and the heat. It is a little bit cooler. We must rock up and do what we have been training (on) throughout the week.”

The bigger picture is, of course, to make the play-offs of the URC and go deep into the EPCR Challenge Cup, which starts next weekend, but Pieterse also admits that Springbok selection will be playing on the minds of the union’s players.

The Lions have no active Boks in their squad, although they do have a handful of former national team players, including Willem Albert, Ruan Dreyer and Andries Coetzee.

With a gaggle of Bok players possibly seeing their final action in the green and gold after the most recent Rugby World Cup triumph, and a four-year cycle renewed towards 2027, there is an opportunity for several Lions to make themselves known.

“I’m not going to sit here and name names,” Pieterse said pragmatically of that possibility, “but look at the quality players that we have and the guys coming through the school system, through the junior system, being here for three or four years.

“That is the future of the Lions ... What we have here at the moment are the right players at the right time.

“A lot comes down to results,” he continued. “If we have good results, players are going to play better.

“That is when the eyes will be more on us. The better results we get, the more the national coaches will look at what is going on here.”

Although Pieterse was loathe to reveal any names, an argument could be made regarding Quan Horn, Henco van Wyk, Jordan Hendrikse, Sanele Nohamba, Francke Horn and Ruan Venter being in that discussion.

And that might be enough to keep the Lions extremely motivated in the coming weeks.

IOL Sport