The URC season is still in its early stages, but former Wales midfielder Jamie Roberts already has a contender for the season’s best performance.
Even at the pinnacle of their Super Rugby success (three consecutive finals between 2016 and 2018), the men from Doornfontein were chastised for a lack of adaptability in tighter match situations, particularly when conditions rendered their expansive approach ineffective.
Ivan van Rooyen’s vintage laid down a huge marker on a wet and windy night at Cardiff Arms Park with a showing that was pleasantly out of character, a low-risk one that was executed brilliantly.
“When I think back to the Lions-Cardiff game, it was a complete lesson in how to manage a game in difficult conditions,” Roberts, who played 93 Tests for the Dragons, said at a URC roundtable event.
“It wasn’t pretty, the wind was howling, and it was pouring.” The Lions simply took that game by the scruff of the neck, and it was a lesson in how to handle a wet weather game.
“I was sitting there thinking that we, as Welsh, should be doing that better because we play in rain for the majority of the season.” Cardiff was taught a lesson by the Lions. It’s really noticeable how quickly South African teams adapt to how the game is played in the northern hemisphere.”
Naturally, he also points out that the adaptability of the local franchise isn’t the only reason for their continued success, particularly on the road.
“I think this league is ideal for South African rugby.” The way the games are being played, especially now that the weather is a factor. Attritional games have emerged. “The SA psyche of set-piece dominance and line-speed defence thrives in these conditions, which have always been like this,” Roberts said.
“This style of rugby simply suits South African rugby better than Super Rugby.” They’re finally finding their footing. Although the Stormers eventually won the title, the South African teams have figured out what style of rugby wins matches.”
Former Springbok winger Breyton Paulse believes that while the Lions have made encouraging progress, it is not only the South African players who should be credited for the local game’s improvement in the tournament.
“The South African sides have been more competitive from the start this season, they’ve found a way to win away from home,” he said.
“We had issues in the first few rounds last year.” You have to credit the coaches, particularly [the Bulls’] Jake White and [the Stormers’] John Dobson, for figuring out how to interpret rules and use a squad system so quickly.
“With teams competing in Europe this year, it’s all about workload management.” That will be crucial. It will be more difficult, but it is still a fantastic opportunity.”