Lions

Lions give Eloff a ‘big bonus’

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Lions coach Eugene Eloff says any further victories or points achieved on his team’s four-match Australasian tour will be a “big bonus”.

An obviously elated Eloff, speaking after his team’s last-gasp 25-24 win – through an 80th minute Andr’ Pretorius penalty – over the Western Force in Perth at the weekend, described the entire team as “heroes”.

The victory over the Force was the first win in Australia for the Lions (or Cats, the Lions’ predecessors) since the tournaments was expanded to first the Super 12 (in 1996) and then the Super 14 (last year).

The last Johannesburg-based team to win in Australia was when Transvaal beat New South Wales in a Super 10 match in Sydney in 1993.

Eloff refused to single out any individuals for special praise after the Perth triumph and said it was a team effort in which all the players showed “tremendous character”.

The Lions coach also declined to talk about the team’s future prospects or if they could be in line for a play-off place, after the win saw them move up to fourth in the standings.

Their three remaining matches on tour are against the Reds (in Brisbane this coming Saturday), the Blues (in Auckland) and the Chiefs (in Hamilton) on successive weekends.

“I am not going to make any statements about what this team can achieve,” Eloff told this website in an interview from Perth.

“What I do know is that this a team with tremendous character.

“We are simply going take it game for game. Everything we get now is a big bonus.

“We have a three-year plan and we are not going to get too excited too soon, but there is now doubt that this team has tremendous potential. It is a matter of bringing them through properly.”

Eloff, who said there were no major injury concerns other than the usual “bumps and bruises” after a physical encounter, said fly-half and captain Andr’ Pretorius came through his 20-odd minutes of action in Perth with no after-effects.

“He showed why he is a Springbok and he showed why he can play at that level, because he can handle the pressure,” Eloff said of Pretorius.

He admitted that while the victory was a reason for celebration, he felt there is much work to do.

“We would have liked to have started better,” he said, pointing to an early try the Lions left on the table.

“I think the guys did brilliantly to keep their composure at the end. We were under tremendous pressure at half-time [when the Force looked in control with an 18-13 lead]. But the players stayed calm and pulled it off.”

Ernst Joubert, who has been wearing the captaincy armband in the absence of Pretorius, was also full of praise for his team.

He said the team had finally proved their critics wrong.

“The people are still saying we only play with heart and we won’t make it [on tour] abroad. They say that the young guys don’t travel well. “I beg to differ, I really do,” Joubert said.

He explained that they were able to change their tactics, after leaving some gaps on defence and going behind in the first half.

“We sorted out our defence,” Joubert said.

“They [the Force] asked very good questions. Nathan [Sharpe, Force captain] and the boys played brilliantly. They played in the 15m and they caught us a bit unawares in the beginning.

“We changed our tactics, sorted it [the defence] out and stuck to our guns.”

He also explained that playing into the wind in the second half may have assisted them more than the Force (who had the wind at their backs).

“You always keep ball in hand and it helps sometimes,” he said of playing against the strong breeze in Perth.

“Sometimes if you lead and then have the wind [at your back] you think you are going to win and sometimes that catches up with you. Luckily we kept ball in hand and put the phases together.”

He also explained how they turned their defensive frailties around.

“We started drifting in defence and didn’t shoot anymore and it helped.”

By Jan de Koning 365 Digital

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