Not everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet in their expectations of what the Lions are capable of in this season’s Currie Cup, says coach Hans Coetzee.
Liam Del Carme reports for www.thetimes.co.za
“Different people have different expectations of the team and I have to be cautious about what I say,” admits Coetzee.
“As a coaching staff we at least want to reach the semifinals. We want to do well in the Currie Cup because we owe it to ourselves and the supporters, and it builds confidence.
“The powers that be believe the Currie Cup should be preparation for next year’s Super 14.”
Although the folk “upstairs” see promise, Coetzee believes his team has developed remarkably in a short time and could be among the semifinal contenders.
“People will probably ask what we are going to do when a team like the Blue Bulls get their Springboks back for the semifinals. To them I say: in semifinals anything can happen.”
The Lions were a shambles in the early days of Coetzee’s reign. They received a thrashing at the hands of the British & Irish Lions and corrective measures had to be drastic and timeous.
“We had two aspects to address,” Coetzee says. “The first was conditioning. Having watched the way we played and reacted in the game against the touring Lions, we realised our conditioning needed to be improved.
“It was especially apparent in our failure to close the gaps on the defence. We addressed it by having more sessions and making them more intense.
“That perhaps explains why the players are a little stiff and struggle to get their game going in the first half.
“Their fat percentage and skin folds were well outside the accepted levels.
“They are tested every Monday morning and there has been a huge improvement.”
The Lions’ defence was the other aspect that needed a serious make- over.
“We felt that our defence was poor,” says the coach. “We compared the stats of last year’s Super 14 with this year’s competition and they were more or less the same.
“We had conceded a helluva lot of tries. To be competitive and perhaps save face, we simply had to improve our defence.
“We could no longer allow guys to just run through us.
“Defence commanded a lot of our attention, perhaps a little at the expense of our attacking play.”
It had the desired effect and the Lions, before the latest round of matches, boasted the second-best defensive record behind the Sharks in the competition.
The improvements came despite strident criticism of Coetzee and his side at the start of the competition.
Many thought the former schoolteacher was out of his depth, but it is a notion he is happy to counter.
“At the start of the Currie Cup season almost half of the coaches were schoolteachers,” he says.
“The Pumas have Jimmy Stonehouse, the Blue Bulls have Frans Ludeke, Oersond Gorgonzola is at the Griffons and Western Province have ‘Toetie’ (Allister Coetzee). Anthony Heugh, who resigned from Eastern Province last week, is also a former teacher.”
Coetzee has had the tables turned on him slightly as he is in the peculiar role of having to do homework as prescribed by Jake White’s Winning Ways consultancy.
“Jake comes in twice a week,” he explains. “Winning Ways will put structures in place around the coaching and conditioning for our provincial sides.”
He adds that the consultants may be required to stay on beyond four months, but he does not know what yardstick will be used to measure their success.
“If the team does really well then it’s easy. If the team doesn’t perform they can always turn around and say it’s because of the coach,” Coetzee chuckles.
The past few months at the top level have taken some getting used to for the former schools coach.
“For anyone with a passion for sport, coaching at this level is a huge honour,” he says.
“We all have dreams. Sometimes those dreams are realised. “It’s hard work. From the outside it looks easy.
“I’m working harder than I have for a long time but the rewards make it worthwhile.”Tweet