Lions hooker PJ Botha scored in the Cardiff rain. (Photo by Ben Evans/Huw Evans Agency/Gallo Images)
- Wales legend Jamie Roberts has a surprising but pleasant early contender for performance of the year in the fledgling URC campaign.
- He believes the Lions taught Cardiff – and other opponents – a lesson in managing wet weather rugby in their 31-18 win a fortnight ago in the Welsh capital.
- Roberts has no qualms stating that moving to Europe was the right decision for South African rugby, especially in suiting traditional strengths.
The URC season is still very much in its infancy, but former star Wales midfielder Jamie Roberts already has a contender for the performance of the campaign.
Rendering his observation just that little bit more tasty is the fact that its an unlikely candidate: the Lions’ 31-18 victory over Cardiff in round three a fortnight ago.
Context is important here.
Even at the height of their Super Rugby success – three consecutive finals between 2016 and 2018 – the men from Doornfontein were criticised for lacking the ability to adapt to tighter match situations, particularly when conditions rendered their expansive approach less effective.
On a wet and windy night at Cardiff Arms Park, Ivan van Rooyen’s vintage laid down a huge marker with a showing that was pleasantly out of character, a low-risk one that was executed brilliantly.
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“I think back at the Lions-Cardiff game and that was just a complete lesson in how to manage a game in difficult conditions,” Roberts, who played 93 Tests for the Dragons, told a URC roundtable event.
“It wasn’t pretty, the wind was howling and it was p**sing down with rain. The Lions just grabbed that game by the scruff of the neck and it was a lesson in how to manage a wet weather game.
“I was sitting and thinking we, as the Welsh, should be doing that better because we’re playing in rain for most of the season. The Lions gave Cardiff a lesson. It’s really been notable how the South African teams are just adapting quicker to how the game is being played in the northern hemisphere.”
Naturally, he also points out that local franchise’s adaptability isn’t the sole reason for their continued success, especially on the road.
“I believe this league is perfect for South African rugby. The way the games are being played, especially with the weather coming into play now. Games now become attritional. The SA psyche of set-piece dominance and line-speed on defence thrives in these conditions, which has been like this always,” said Roberts.
“This style of rugby just suits SA rugby better than Super Rugby did. They’re really finding their feet now. I know the Stormers eventually won the title, but the SA teams really have figured out what style of rugby wins matches.”
Former Springbok wing Breyton Paulse, citing how the Lions have showed encouraging progress, believes its not just the South African players who deserve credit for the local game’s upturn in the tournament.
“The SA sides have really been more competitive from the outset this season, they’ve worked out a way to win away from home,” he said.
“Last year, we had our problems in the first few rounds. You have to complement the coaches, particularly [the Bulls’] Jake White and [Stormers’] John Dobson for learning so quickly, working out how to interpret rules and use a squad system.
“This year its about workload management with the teams playing in Europe too. That will be key. It will be more tricky, but it’s still a wonderful opportunity.”