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Tuesday, 14 November 2023 15:40

Lions edge closer to Vodacom United Rugby Championship success.

By Michael Vlismas.

Emirates Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen went into this Vodacom United Rugby Championship season determined for his team to build on the momentum they had towards the end of last season. With one victory on tour and three narrow defeats, there is a sense they are a step closer to realising their potential in the competition.

A 24-23 victory over the Scarlets in Wales was a big boost for the Johannesburg team who up until then had suffered a narrow two-point defeat to the DHL Stormers in Stellenbosch followed by a one-point defeat against Edinburgh and then a five-point defeat against Benetton on tour.

"We were so close yet so far in terms of the playoffs last season. Towards the end of the season we played better in alignment and clarity, and if we managed to beat Leinster (they lost 36-39) we might have snuck in the top eight. So it’s important for us to keep that momentum if you look at that last block of results – the way we played and the energy, and to keep building on that," Van Rooyen said going into this season.

"The exciting thing is we can build on a bit of continuity. We haven’t lost our main squad. There is great energy around our goals and targets, and there are a lot of good people around us as a team."

Barend Pieterse, who joined the team this season as the forwards coach, shares this faith in them to be more competitive in the third edition of the competition.

"I know this is a tough bunch of players and a very talented group. They've been together now for a few years through a few tough times as well.

"I'd like them to believe in the system we have. If they do that, I’m one hundred per cent sure we can be very successful."

The Emirates Lions next take on last season’s losing quarterfinalists Ulster in Belfast this Friday.