A lowly two wins from eight starts put the Lions in recently familiar territory on the United Rugby Championship log – they lie 14th – but stand-in skipper Jaco Kriel believes now is the time for calm heads to prevail.
Indeed, given how the men from Ellis Park were criticized last week for lacking “heart and attitude” in their first of two derbies against the Bulls, the immediate priority was simply showing some commitment again.
And, at least, that was evident in this past weekend’s 13-21 loss at Loftus.
“It’s never nice to say such things, but it also doesn’t help if you sit in the changeroom and lie to each other that it’s this and that,” said Kriel, who was the first guy to question his team-mates’ lack of oomph previously.
“We looked each other in the eye and on Monday, we took the shots in the video sessions, and everybody was singled out who needed to be singled out, and we worked on that.
“I think as a group, if you as a player can’t handle that positive criticism and work on it, then you don’t belong in the professional era.
“It’s great to see that the guys responded to last week’s game, and really showed heart. As a group, we must just stick together, and we know that we can be much more clinical than what we were in this game.”
The Lions will be concerned by their recent impotence on the attack though, having scored just two tries in their last 160 minutes on the field and struggling to translate spurts of dominance into real pressure.
They’ve also trumpeted their defense under a new coach in Jaque Fourie, but three tries conceded means it’s still very much a work in progress.
“I’m not going to say we are happy with conceding three tries, but we can say that intent, the willingness to tackle, the willingness to work hard against a big, physical Bulls team, was considerably better,” said the head coach Ivan van Rooyen.
“We were able to tackle them back at various stages of the match, which is why we were able to stay in the scrap. So, much better in that regard.
“It is one of our pillars on which we want to build our path going forward. One thing I can’t say is that the intent wasn’t good, not enough heart, or that we were a bit lazy and looked tired. The guys really stood up.”
Kriel also believes the Lions merely need minor improvements and tweaks to turn decent platforms into positive results.
“We got to the right parts of the field, but we just didn’t round off as we wanted. The Bulls got into our 22 twice and scored points twice,” said the experienced flanker.
“I believe if we strive to produce that kind of clinical play, then we will grow as a group. The challenge for us now is to not become individualistic but to stick together as a group, and the players must follow the coaches.”
The Lions host the Stormers on Saturday.