EPCR Challenge Cup: Lions must rise and pounce on Newcastle Falcons

Lions prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye has become a cult figure at Ellis Park. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Lions prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye has become a cult figure at Ellis Park. Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

Published Dec 15, 2023


The Lions finish off 2023 with an EPCR Challenge Cup match against embattled English Premiership club Newcastle Falcons this weekend.

Having previously secured an away win in the tournament against Perpignan with a second-string side, this match could be the perfect way to end the year on a high by stamping their authority in the sixteam Pool 2.

Here, Morgan Bolton looks at four things he would like to see in tomorrow’s match at Ellis Park (5.15pm kick-off) ...

Ruthless aggression

The Lions are expected to select a full-strength match-day 23 to face the Falcons.

They are currently on a threematch winning streak in all competitions, having soundly beaten Zebre, Dragons and Perpignan.

In the first two games, they showed a willingness to run the ball and take on the defence of the opposition, while against Perpignan, a more measured and tactical approach was required.

As assistant coach Ricardo Loubscher said earlier this week: “We call it winning rugby, not ugly rugby.”

“You have to do what is necessary,” Morné van den Berg agreed.

We couldn’t agree more. As alluded to by both, the victory over the Blood and Gold wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, but it was ruthless.

The Lions stuck to their game plan and their tactics regardless of the pressures of the day.

It was a mature, measured performance that they must apply to all of their fixtures, including the Falcons this weekend.

Meshing the two styles together into one organism will do the Lions wonders. The flashy and beautiful rugby will surely follow.

A longer run for Hendrikse Flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse hasn’t had the best of starts to the season.

A serious injury that saw him on the sidelines for a prolonged period earlier this year certainly knocked his form and confidence down a peg.

He was slightly indecisive at times against Perpignan on attack, but a Player- of-the-Match

performance will only do him good. He scored 23 points last Sunday in the 28-12 win, making his kicks and getting some much-needed game time.

Sanele Nohamba has been the incumbent No 10, and that probably won’t change for this match, but Hendrikse must get subbed in earlier against the Falcons to keep his momentum going.

Rewarding Esterhuizen

The three-match sanction of Ruben Schoeman continues for this match, which means there will have to be a new second-row combination.

The preferred pairing this season has been Ruan Delport and Schoeman, with Willem Alberts on the bench.

Against Perpignan, Etienne Oosthuizen and Raynard Roets were selected as the locks, and they were just fine during the victory over the French club.

Utility forward Izan Esterhuizen, however, was simply magnificent when he replaced Oosthuizen in the 53rd minute of the match at the Stade Aime Giral.

He made some powerful runs and put in some telling tackles, making an immediate statement of intent.

With head coach Ivan van Rooyen looking on, he ticked all the right boxes to push for another opportunity this weekend against the Falcons ... at least as a replacement.

Ntlabakanye rolling out

The 24-year-old Lions tighthead prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye is developing a cult following at Ellis Park.

Against the Dragons now a fortnight ago, the loudest cheer of the match was reserved for Ntlabakanye’s line break and mad dash towards the tryline.

It came to a surprising end when scrumhalf Rhodri Williams put himself between the onrushing front-ranker and the whitewash, standing his ground as all 150-plus kilograms bore down on him.

Ntlabakanye is having an excellent season so far – he is a powerful scrummager and works hard with ball in hand, and even harder in defence.

We would love to see him continue that form as he develops into the grizzled front-rower that the Springboks love to play.

IOL Sport