Lions happy to embrace underdog tag
SUPER RUGBY BUILD-UP: The Lions head to Newlands on Saturday to take on the table-topping Stormers with the 'underdog' tag firmly around their necks.
Lions coach Swys de Bruin said that they are well-aware of the form and quality of a Stormers team that last weekend ended the Chiefs' unbeaten run.
Saturday's outing is seen as one of the most crucial encounters of the season in the two African conferences.
However, the Lions are not putting additional pressure on themselves to upstage one of the form teams of the competition.
"We approach every game on its merits," De Bruin told rugby365, adding: "We don't want to get ahead of ourselves."
He pointed out that the Lions have never won a Super Rugby match at Newlands.
Their best result was a 19-all draw in 2015.
The Cats - the unhappy marriage between the Lions and Cheetahs - did win in Cape Town in 1999 and 2001.
"We also played them in a pre-season friendly at Newlands [Stormers beat Lions 57-40] and that game showed me they have made a massive step up," De Bruin said.
"It is no secret that we are the underdogs at Newlands on Saturday."
De Bruin said the biggest change from the Stormers version of 2016 to this year is that the Cape Town franchise are "playing much more".
"They were in a defensive mindset for a long time," the Lions backline coach said, adding: "Now they play [more expansive] and you have to watch them the whole time."
He admitted the Lions were forced into an arm-wrestle in their last encounter with the Sharks (a 34-29 win), but felt the Newlands showdown will provide them with a very different challenge.
"They [the Stormers] play a very different brand than the Sharks - they play a more expansive game.
"They have three very fast loose forwards, where the Sharks have three physical loose forwards.
"They also have big backs. EW Viljoen and Robert du Preez are big players. Even Dillyn Leyds, while not the most muscular, is also a big player.
"The big difference is the change in style.
"I said that to [Stormers coach] Robbie Fleck, when we chatted after the pre-season friendly.
"He said that is their main goal, [to be more expansive].
"What is important that our ball control is not good yet.
"When it comes to tries and line-breaks we are not bad.
"However, we have to protect the ball much better against the Stormers. If you make a mistake, they are lethal on the counter-attack.
"We certainly won't deviate from the Lions' normal approach."
De Bruin also felt the Lions have been nowhere near their best this year.
"Last year we had a steady tour - when we beat the Chiefs in New Zealand, which was great.
"However, we only hit our straps in the second half of the season. We had a few arm-wrestles [in 2016] and it was like Test rugby at times.
"We certainly did not fire from the outset. People remember three or four good games, but a closer look will show we had a few real arm-wrestles - like we had against the Sharks.
"Look at the Chiefs, they played great rugby [last Saturday] and still lost to the Stormers.
"[Chiefs coach] Dave Rennie said afterwards they are disappointed, but it was a great game of footy."
By Jan de Koning