Johannesburg — Jaque Fourie understands that this weekend’s clash against Connacht is big picture stuff.
The defence coach of the Emirates Lions, along with his fellow coaches, have watched the Lions ebb and flow in form these past two months, witnessing them beat Stade Francais handsomely, then go on a four-match long losing streak, only to return to winning ways this past week against Dragons in a must-win EPCR Challenge Cup clash.
That most recent match in itself was a microcosm of all that is good, bad and ugly about the Lions’ season so far. At times they were irrepressible, playing with confidence, only then to crumble under the invisible hand of self-doubt, expectation and pressure.
It was, nevertheless, an important victory as it could possibly restart the Lions’ push in the United Rugby Championship (URC) this weekend, their progression to the Round of 16 of the Challenge Cup notwithstanding.
And although Fourie admitted that the team is not too fussed about being 12th on the URC log, where they are six points outside of the the top eight, the former Springbok legend did not shy away from the immensity of the match against the Irish franchise.
“At this stage we are not too worried about where we are laying on the table.
“There are still seven games left in the URC for us and they are tough games. We’ve got Leinster, we’ve got Benetton, the Sharks, and the Bulls,” he said.
“We are taking it game-by-game and our focus is on Connacht. For us, it is a very important game because I think if we can pull this one off this weekend, it will put our URC campaign back on track again.
“Then we will take it from there. We will reassess when we get back at home, push the reset button and take on the next few games again.”
One of the focus areas this week will no doubt have been the Lions’ game management, especially in the second half. For two weeks now the Lions have dominated the first stanza, only to let that supremacy slip away.
A fortnight ago, they contained Stade Francais in the return fixture of the Challenge Cup on the Pink Army’s home turf during the first 40 with a gritty performance that deserved more than the eventual 17-7 defeat. This past weekend, against Dragons, they romped to a brilliantly constructed and dominant 30-5 lead, only to allow Dragons to play their natural game in the second half.
It made for a stressful finish, the Lions eventually coming out tops 30-25.
“It has been our problem the whole season,” Fourie said. “We need to turn it around. We need to put two halves together.
“Hopefully, this week, we have sorted it out. We go into a spiral where we do a lot of negative stuff, so we need to get back to the positives … we have to break that cycle.”
They can certainly do so on Saturday against Connacht at the Sportsground (kick-off 9.35pm). They, too, have been inconsistent this campaign and have battled to 11th on the URC standings having played one game more than the visitors.
The Lions will be bolstered in this endeavour in that they have no injury concerns, according to Fourie, with the full touring squad available for selection.
“We are all good for this weekend,” he said.
“The doctor (Rob Collins) even said this is the first time on tour that there aren’t a lot of injuries. It is a short turnaround and there are challenges to get the guys fresh and their bodies ready as quickly as possible.”