Life on the Road with the Emirates Lions - Next Stop Galway
From Cork to Paris, from the Gwent valleys to Galway, life on the road continues for the Lions as they now switch their focus back to the BKT United Rugby Championship.
Following trips to Munster and Stade Francais, the men from Johannesburg found themselves in the unexpected setting of Ystrad Mynach at the weekend, with their crucial EPCR Challenge Cup clash with Dragons RFC being moved to an artificial surface due to a frozen pitch at Rodney Parade.
They held off a stirring second half revival from their BKT URC rivals to win 30-25, with fly-half Jordan Hendrikse kicking 20 points to earn the Player of the Match award.
That’s earned them a home tie against star-studded French outfit Racing 92 in the last 16 of the Challenge Cup on the weekend of April 1.
But now it’s BKT URC action that again takes their attention as they prepare for Saturday night’s meeting with Connacht at the Galway Sportsground.
It’s an important game for them as they look to rise up from twelfth in the table and put themselves in the mix for the end-of-season play-offs.
This will be their sixth successive away fixture, following BKT URC trips to the Cell C Sharks, DHL Stormers and Munster, plus Challenge Cup journeys to Stade Francais and Dragons RFC.
They are now entering the final leg of a demanding four-week stay in Europe, with coach Ivan van Rooyen taking heart from the way they emerged victorious in Ystrad Mynach, against the backdrop of snow-capped hills and a determined Dragons rally.
“On four week tours, week three is really tough and to have it in cold weather makes it a long week,” he said.
“That makes us really proud of the result. It makes a big difference to have home advantage in the last 16. Altitude plus a bit of summer sun is a benefit.
“We’ve got one more week, out in Galway, where apparently it’s going to be cold and windy, and then we head back to the sunshine.
“Against Connacht, we need to be clinical like we were in the first 40 versus the Dragons, not how we were in the second 40. It was very much a game of two halves.”
Although Emirates Lions were outscored by four tries to two, they had the match winner in 21-year-old fly-half Jordan Hendrikse who landed seven successful shots at goal.
“It’s just about staying calm and staying in the moment. When the team needs you, that’s when you step up,” said the South Africa Sevens international.
“It meant a lot to get the win. It’s been tough, adapting to new conditions, with the weather, but all credit to the boys for executing a plan and getting the victory.
“Moving forward now, it’s about taking the positives in terms of how clinical we were in the first half and executing over the full 80 minutes.”
Having led 30-5 after 50 minutes, Emirates Lions were then pegged back to 30-25 and found themselves under siege on their own line in the final play before claiming the breakdown penalty that secured the win.
Skipper and centre Marius Louw said: “We need to work a little bit more on being clinical and closing out games. The Dragons came back with really good intensity in the second half, carrying over the gainline, and our discipline wasn’t good enough.
“We make it difficult for ourselves having to fight like that towards the end. But we can definitely take the positives from the first half going into the Connacht game.”