By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Being alert from the start and avoiding giving away early points will be top of the agenda as South African's Lions prepare to face the Canterbury Crusaders in Saturday’s Super Rugby final in Christchurch.
The Lions have been forced onto the back foot after going behind early in their last three games, seemingly slumbering their way through the opening exchanges before being handed a nasty wake-up call.
But while home advantage against the Bulls, Jaguares and in Saturday's semi-final against the New South Waratahs allowed the Lions to register impressive come-from-behind victories, it will be much harder to produce the same on the road in New Zealand.
"We’d like to improve on that, to be honest with you," captain Warren Whiteley said after the Lions conceded two tries in the opening eight minutes before emerging 44-26 winners over the Waratahs to book a final place for the third year in a row.
"We were under pressure, we had to go back to the drawing board, tighten up a bit, we went to our rolling maul and our scrums and I think it worked well. That’s been our strength all season."
Coach Swys de Bruin had a more sympathetic view of his team's poor start against the Australians.
"Honestly, go look back at the game, we never had the ball!," he told reporters at the post-match news conference.
"We had to defend and they cleverly outsmarted us. But once we had the ball, the game changed."
On July 14, in their last match before the playoffs, the Lions were 12-0 down against the Bulls before running out comfortable 38-12 winners at Ellis Park.
A week later in the quarter-final against the Jaguares, the Lions gave away early penalties to trail 6-0 before registering a 40-23 triumph.
"It’s amazing, even with the Springboks against England (in June), it was the same. It seems we have to allow the opposition to run away with the score early and then we catch up," quipped de Bruin.
"It gives me grey hairs and it’s not good for the spectators, but you know what? It builds character in a way. But we are going to have to fix that before we meet the Crusaders."
(Editing by Nick Mulvenney)