Lions still su­per-fit, says Van

Long sea­son but no fa­tigue ahead of crunch semi – con­di­tion­ing coach

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - JAC­QUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN

THEY may have stut­tered some­what in the last fort­night but the Lions have scoffed at sug­ges­tions they are a fa­tigued out­fit at this late stage of the Su­per Rugby sea­son.

In fact, said con­di­tion­ing coach Ivan van Rooyen in the build-up to Satur­day’s semi­fi­nal show­down with the Hur­ri­canes at El­lis Park, the Lions are primed to peak right now.

And they will cer­tainly have to be on top of their game on Satur­day if they’re to get past last year’s de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons and the same side that beat them 50-17 in Joburg in the 2016 reg­u­lar sea­son and 20-3 in the fi­nal in Welling­ton.

But a dip in form and in­ten­sity in back-to­back games against the Sharks go­ing into this week­end’s match has raised con­cerns the Lions may be suf­fer­ing be­cause of the heavy work­load the play­ers have had to en­dure this sea­son. The ma­jor­ity of them have been go­ing since Fe­bru­ary and in June when many play­ers were able to put their feet up and re­lax, the bulk of the Lions were in­volved in the three-Test se­ries against France, while cer­tain play­ers also ran out for the SA ‘A’ team against the French Bar­bar­ians.

Are the Lions run­ning out of puff then? No way, said Van Rooyen: “We al­ways knew a lot of guys would be in­volved with the Boks and SA ‘A’ so we man­aged them be­fore the June break and af­ter­wards. We also had an idea some time ago that we’d be play­ing in the knock­out rounds so again we were able to man­age their work­loads in train­ing.

“What the ma­jor­ity of the play­ers have ex­pe­ri­enced this sea­son, play­ing reg­u­larly, and vir­tu­ally on ev­ery week­end, has no role in how the team per­forms at the week­end.”

Court­nal Skosan, pic­tured, with 1220 min­utes played out of a pos­si­ble 1280 from the 16 games the Lions have played this sea­son (in­clud­ing last week­end’s quar­ter-fi­nal), has the most num­ber of min­utes be­hind him. He is sixth on the over­all com­pe­ti­tion list for num­ber of min­utes played, hav­ing played vir­tu­ally ev­ery minute of ev­ery game, and then also the three Bok Tests in June.

An­other new Lions Bok, full­back An­dries Coet­zee, is 20th on the list for min­utes clocked up, with 1129 min­utes. Harold Vorster – who fea­tured for the SA ‘A’ team - is next among the Lions play­ers and he’s fol­lowed by Franco Mostert and El­ton Jan­tjies, both of whom were reg­u­lars for the Boks in the three Tests in June. In to­tal, 10 Lions play­ers turned out for the Boks and four oth­ers for SA ‘A’. “The June Tests were re­ally only dis­rup­tive in the sense the play­ers left us to join an­other set-up for a while, but it didn’t have any im­pact. Ev­ery­one is on the same page re­gard­ing train­ing sched­ules, time on the field and re­cov­ery.”

Satur­day’s match will be the first for the Lions against a New Zealand team this sea­son. Van Rooyen said it would cer­tainly pose new and dif­fer­ent chal­lenges to the play­ers.

“It’s def­i­nitely a test of a dif­fer­ent kind ... and we know we’re go­ing to have to go for the full 80 min­utes; that’s a given. The Hur­ri­canes, how­ever, know they’re also go­ing to have to go for the full 80.”

He said the team show­ing the most pa­tience would come out on top. “Pa­tience in the small mo­ments will be key ... mak­ing the right de­ci­sions and tak­ing one’s chances.”

Jo­han Ack­er­mann will name his line-up to­day.

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