Lions have five games to reach necessary 50

Asenathi Ntlabakanye could be selectable from this weekend onwards. | Backpagepix

Asenathi Ntlabakanye could be selectable from this weekend onwards. | Backpagepix

Published Apr 16, 2024


Morgan Bolton

Five matches that could yield the maximum of 25 points, 20 if all are won without any bonus-points, and a winning run that must at least equate to 16 points, is the simple arithmetic that the Lions will have to make tangible in the next few weeks.

Knocked out of the EPCR Challenge Cup, the Joburgers can now focus every ounce of their attention on the United Rugby Championship (URC) in their ultimate objective of reaching the Top 8 of that tournament. Looking back at the previous two editions of the competition, 50 points should suffice in reaching the play-offs.

Asenathi Ntlabakanye could be selectable from this weekend onwards. | Backpagepix

Last season, the Sharks sneaked into the quarter-finals with 48 points, while at the end of the 2021/22 season the Glasgow Warriors did so with 50. If that is the high-water mark, then it will leave the Lions with little room to manoeuvre, although it remains a feasible goal – a tough one, but not improbable.

The Lions sit 11th in the URC standings on 34 points. They have the advantage that their next four games are at home at Ellis Park, and winning those – which will see them collect at least 16 points – should keep them in the hunt for qualification to the post-season.

Those four matches, however, will not be easy.

First up this weekend are the log leaders Leinster, followed by fourth-placed Munster. They then face Cardiff – who are 10 points behind them in 12th, before another massive showdown against current second-placed side, the Glasgow Warriors.

Their run-in completes itself against the Stormers in Cape Town on June 1 in a match that could decide which team between the two progresses to the knockout stages.

The Joburgers will be further aided by the nature of the log itself. There are a bevy of teams within touching distance of the Doornfontein-based team, all of which could knock each other out of the running in the coming weeks.

Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen will hope that he can select from a full squad when his team face log leaders Leinster this weekend. | Backpagapix

The Lions are on the same points as Connacht and Edinburgh in 10th and ninth, respectively. One point above that cluster of teams, Ulster and Ospreys sit in a vulnerable position, with Benetton in sixth on 37 points and the Stormers in fifth two points above them.

The ever-improving Sharks, who are building towards securing silverware in the EPCR Challenge Cup and will surely play their strongest team going forward, could also play a big part in the Lions’ fortunes. Although they have recently elevated themselves from the bottom of the log into 13th, they’ve battled for consistency in the URC.

As they attempt to build momentum towards their semi-final clash against Clermont in the Challenge Cup, the Durbanites will face Benetton and Cardiff in the closing stages of the URC. The Bulls, meanwhile, will also face Benetton and the Ospreys, too; while the Stormers can limit the aspirations of the Welsh franchise and Connacht as well.

It will, however, fall on the Lions to secure their destiny, starting with Leinster on Saturday (kick-off 3pm). Ivan van Rooyen and his team have never beaten the Irish juggernaut.

They came close last season, but then came unstuck 39-36 at home to what was an academy team. The campaign before, at RDS Ground in Dublin, they lost 21-13.

Van Rooyen is expected to be able to select a full-strength team, which could see the return of Henco van Wyk from injury. Prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye should also be back in the mix after serving his three-match suspension, should he have undergone tackle school.