Zebre coach Michael Bradley on shutting down Lions' forward pack
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The Emirates Lions front-row that will pack down against Zebre on Friday in the United Rugby Championship (URC) is a healthy portion of beefcake and power.
Tight-head Carlu Sadie has in recent season made quite a name for himself as a scrummiger and has steadily coupled that with more powerful runs when in possessions, while his prop partner on Friday night, Ruan Dreyer, is a Springbok and veteran with a few tricks up his sleeve. In-between will be the unheralded Jaco Visagie, while the team’s most impressive front-rower, Sti Sithole, will be champing at the bit to get off the bench and make an impact later on.
It is a formidable front-row, one that has outmuscled and outscrummed most of the teams in SA, including Springbok-laden ones.
The XV of the North-West’s head coach, Michael Bradley, is acutely aware of this fact, and revealed on Thursday that if his team can shut down the Lions pack, then they will be on their way to victory.
“The team selected for tomorrow has some ex-Springboks in it,” said Bradley of the Lions’ starting eight for the encounter. "They are possibly going to be the biggest front-row we have seen in Parma … ever …
“That is the cornerstone of how they have been playing recently. They put a lot of pressure on you at the set-piece. For sure, they are quite abrasive one to 15, so we expect it to be a very strong, physical challenge. All the South African sides have that element.”
It is true.
The Lions have arguably lost a bit of their flair and unpredictability in recent season, moving to a more forward-orientated gameplan that endeavours to dominate the set-piece, eke out penalties from it, kick up-field to set a up a line-out and then drive forward with a cohesive maul; rinse and repeat …
To stop this from happening, Bradley revealed a measure of Zebre’s strategy, and it will involve attacking the breakdown – one of the areas the Joburgers have battled in so far this season.
“If we can contain the pack,” said Bradley, “that is the key issue for us because the efficiency of the Lions in Zone 5 (the opposition’s 22), is very high.
“We need to be very disciplined in terms of penalties. It’s best not to give away territory or possession in our Zone 1. We have a system of defence that puts a lot of pressure on the opposition. Technically, we are very good in the breakdown, and if you hold your discipline in that area, we can put a lot of pressure on the Lions.”
Make no mistake, Zebre are also a team packed with heavyweight flesh up-front. Prop Matteo Nocera reportedly weighs in at a healthy 128kg, while both locks for the match – David Sisi and Leonardo Krumov – are around the 120 kilo mark. All of the loosies – Maxime Mbanda, Jacopo Bianchi and Renato Giammarioli – are also on the right side of 100kg.
The pack-weights should be closer than expected, so Friday’s match might not be a case of heft claiming the day, but rather which team’s technique is up to scratch and how the officials call it.
The match kicks off at 6.35pm.