Albert Van den Berg. (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images)
- Lions forward coach Albert van den Berg said SA teams will have to make do with what they have from a salary cap perspective in the United Rugby Championship.
- The Lions were the only successful SA team in the tournament this past weekend.
- The Lions will be away to the Scarlets on Friday.
Lions forward coach Albert van den Berg echoed Bulls coach Jake White’s sentiments in that the salary cap will create an unequal playing field for the European and South African teams in the United Rugby Championship.
The Lions got off to a satisfactory start to the tournament by beating Zebre 38-26, but the second-half onslaught from the Italian side showed the gulf in class between the teams.
Echoing the bad old days of Super Rugby in 2002 and 2003 when there were no South African representatives in the semi-finals, the Lions were the only SA outfit to get a win on the opening weekend of the new competition.
Van den Berg though was optimistic, saying that it’ll require the SA teams to recruit with more shrewdness and get the best out of what they have.
“It’s difficult for the South African teams to compete with the exchange rate, but it’s something that we have to work with and ensure the guys we work with are competitive,” Van den Berg said.
“Everyone must make things work according to their budget and at times, you want to buy 40 of the best players, but you can only afford a certain amount of players in that budget and if you want the exceptional players, you have to break the bank.
“The budget is one problem, but another thing is that we need to make sure the squad effort is more than what the budget is.”
While the Stormers were off-colour against Benetton, the Bulls and the Sharks were handsomely outplayed by Leinster and Munster respectively.
The picture may not look pretty after the first round, but Van den Berg said the scales could be evened out when they come to South Africa.
“The gap is not as big as everyone thought and it will be nice for us to play at home against them,” Van den Berg said.
“It’ll be interesting to see how they tour, but with the European teams, they’ve got quality players, with lots of Islanders also here.
“It’s like a collective team effort from their side having all of these players and that makes it hard to play against them.
“It’s a very competitive competition and it’s highlighting the lessening gap.”
The Lions move to Wales on Friday where they’ll be hosted by Scarlets, a team that Van den Berg said is a well-rounded and well-equipped side.
“They’ve got a very good set-piece attack, they’ve got a good backline and they’ve got a few Lions players,” Van den Berg said.
“They’re very well coached with quality players and they communicate well on the field, so for us, it’s about being clinical and we expect a physical battle.
“There will be opportunities for us, but in order for us to take them we have to be on the same page and the different teams have different attributes.”