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Francke Horn says the Lions know their next two games are crucial to their URC hopes

Francke Horn says the Lions know their next two games are crucial to their URC hopes

Johannesburg – For a side that has Top 8 ambitions, not having won a home game this United Rugby Championship (URC) season, despite three attempts, is inexcusable.

That is where the Emirates Lions find themselves after six games, with three wins away and three losses – all at Emirates Airline Park. Their first loss at their base in September in their opening clash against the Bulls, could be excused as early season jitters, but the subsequent losses against Ulster and the Stormers back-to-back are more difficult to ignore.

The 39-37 Ulster defeat, in particular, remains grating as they should have won that encounter in mid-October, had it not been for an unfortunate 20 minutes, either side of half-time, which left them a man down and with too much to do in the final quarter of the match.

So, priority No 1 now is to beat the Dragons at the Park on Sunday (kick-off 4pm) to wipe that pressing objective off the whiteboard in the coach’s office; and then build momentum for the next three months. There is a lot of rugby coming the way of the Lions in the next 12 weeks, so they will need every ounce of confidence to get through it.

In-form Lions eighthman Francke Horn sees it that way, too.

Said the 23-year-old: “The next two games (against the Dragons and Scarlets) will be critical for us just to get that winning momentum back at home.

“It is disappointing (the current record at home), especially because we want to play good rugby for the fans and to bring more people in to come and watch … we obviously take it game-by-game and team-by-team but we want to start playing better at home.

“When the fixtures came out, we saw that (they will be playing throughout December and January) and we have already made peace with it. We had our three weeks off, so now it is back into our match-week routine. We are looking forward to it.”

The Dragons, however, are much improved since last season and there is a growing sense of belief that they can beat their hosts this weekend. Former Springbok Bobby Skinstad, who played for them briefly in the 2000s, seems to believe so.

“They have won their last two games in the competition (against Zebre and the Ospreys),” Skinstad said earlier this week, “while the Lions have been up and down, either on fire or sort-of non-committal when arriving at kick-off.

“If the Dragons can make a really good start, they will be comfortable that they can knock them over. With the kind of confidence they have now, they will think they can go there and win the game.”

Of course, Skinstad forgot to mention that the Dragons have never played on the Highveld but then again, neither had Ulster. It will remain a factor though.

Both teams are full of running and are expected to attack the gainline with ball in hand rather than a pure kicking game. Hopefully, Sunday’s weather will allow for such a spectacle. Current forecasts suggest a mild day with thunderstorms looming.

Lions head coach Ivan van Rooyen has no injury concerns, and is likely to stick with the players, despite their most recent outing – that loss to the Stormers – when his team ran out of puff in the closing stages of the match.

New signing, hooker Michael van Vuuren, could also make his debut for the Joburgers. Van Rooyen selects his matchday 23 on Friday.

Lions possible starting XV: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Edwill van der Merwe, 13 Henco van Wyk, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Quam Horn, 10 Gianni Lombard, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Ruan Venter, 6 Emmanuel Tsahituka, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel (capt), 4 Pieter Jansen van Vuren, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 PJ Botha, 1 JP Smith


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