Time for Lions to ‘step it up at home’ in crucial Sharks URC derby

General view of Ellis Park ahead of the United Rugby Championship derby between the Lions and the Sharks. Picture: Karen Sandison / Independent Media

General view of Ellis Park ahead of the United Rugby Championship derby between the Lions and the Sharks. Picture: Karen Sandison / Independent Media

Published Feb 29, 2024


The Lions must use their United Rugby Championship clash against the Sharks this weekend to ruthlessly smother any thoughts of doubt and contain any concerns regarding pressure that might be creeping into their game.

A four-match losing streak in all competitions, punctuated by a poor outing against the Bulls a fortnight ago in a 25-10 defeat, has put a stopper on the any excitement around the Joburgers.

Arresting the decline against the Sharks on Saturday at Ellis Park in Johannesburg (3pm kick-off) will be paramount to setting the course right again before a three-match tour to Ireland, Wales and Italy.

On Wednesday, journeyman prop JP Smith touched on the sense of expectation and delivering on their promise as the need to win their remaining games becomes heavier.

“Every game has pressure,” he admitted, “but I think we need to step it up at home.

“The crowd deserves it – (from) the supporters to the guys working around the stadium. We owe them one, and we need to make Ellis Park what it should be.

“For a team, it is important that when the doubt kicks in – and I am not saying we have doubt but maybe last week there was a little bit of it – you need to be able to get that out of your mind, keep believing and stick to the structure by focusing on the next phase.

“I think if we dwell on the mistakes, it is a snowball effect.”

Against the Bulls most recently, the Lions were guilty of not playing to their strengths in an underwhelming outing. They made a raft of basic errors, and battled to retain possession through either error or turnover.

They could not put the Bulls under any period of sustained pressure, which saw them frantically chasing the game.

With doubt creeping in, a serious discussion was to be had within the team, which Smith revealed required a bit of introspection and frank talk about the way forward.

“It has all come down to the individual,” the veteran prop explained.

“We have worked hard as a group of players with being direct and honest with each other this week ...

“We need to take ownership. We are professional athletes, and we are not at the standard that we should be regarding that.”

One of the areas where there expected to be a heated exchange this weekend, is in the scrums. The Lions have had a good run of it this season at the set piece ... for the most part.

Against the Bulls, however, they came a bit unstuck, with the visitors turning the screws up front.

The Sharks could pack some serious firepower in their pack when they make the trip to Doornfontein, with Vincent Koch, Bongi Mbonambi and Ox Nche as their front row, backed up by Eben Etzebeth and the returning Vincent Tshituka.

“We struggled against the Bulls for the first couple of scrums and then started getting out of system,” Smith admitted.

“It is a team sport, so we can’t go individually. We have worked hard to stick to our structure.

“Julian (Redelinghuys, the Lions’ scrum coach) has a great base for us. If we stick to our structure and everyone does their job in that eight, we will certainly do our part.

“I have scrummed a few times against Vince,” Smith added, of the possible scrum battle against Koch, “from school when he was in Wellington, and I was in Paarl Gym.

“I scrummed against him when he was at Stade de France as well, and it is always a challenge.

“He is a two-time World Cup winner, and with the like of Bongi and Ox next to him, you don’t get much better than that.

“It will be a massive challenge for us, especially after last week’s performance.”

Meanwhile, Jordan Hendrikse is set to join the Sharks at the end of the year.

A social media post from his agents, Roc Nation, yesterday confirmed that the No 10 will join older brother Jaden at the union.

Emmanuel Tshituka, meanwhile, is also transferring to the Durban-based side, reuniting with his older brother Vincent there.