They may not be the Crusaders team of old, but they’re certainly not to be written off. In fact, Lions coach Johan Ackermann believes the multiple champions are just a win away from potentially turning their season around.
The teams clash at Ellis Park tomorrow, with the hosts the side on the up and the Crusaders the team desperate to get something going. The Lions are fourth in the standings after a stunning start to their challenge; the Crusaders are 13th, with just two wins from five matches.
Ackermann, though, says writing off the Crusaders would be a huge mistake. “There are so many big-name players in the squad, a bunch of All Blacks. They’re a quality side, with too much talent to be written off.
“I can’t put my finger on why they’re ‘battling’, but they’ve got the quality and ability to turn things around very quickly if they get a few results going their way.”
The key for the Lions this weekend was to not believe they were up against a spent force, according to the coach. “We must not be lulled into thinking they’re not the Crusaders team of old. We’re still definitely the underdogs.”
Man for man the Crusaders are certainly the more experienced outfit. Despite losing key player Kieran Read to concussion, the visitors still boast the likes of Israel Dagg, Ryan Crotty, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Matt Todd, Owen Franks, Wyatt Crocket and three of the four Whitelock brothers, Samuel, George and Luke.
“It’s going to be a great challenge. The players are very excited. We haven’t identified certain teams and targeted them, depending where they are on the log or what form they’re in ... our focus from the start has been on the next job, and that’s the Crusaders this week.
“We respect them and their form has had no influence on how we’ve prepared this week. We’ll play with the same intensity and attitude as we’ve done in all our games up to now.”
The Lions go into the match following a bye, something Ackermann says was very necessary after a demanding first six weeks of competition. “The players were all energised in the first few weeks of competition and in our last game I could see some of them were taking strain. I was forced to use the bench sooner than I’d hoped, so the week off has helped freshen the guys up and they look keen to play again. The main thing for us this weekend will be to switch on where we left off two weeks ago.”
With experienced lock Franco van der Merwe out for the season, Martin Muller comes into the side to partner Franco Mostert in the second row, while at the back fit-again Andries Coetzee will wear the No15 jersey after recovering from injury. Deon van Rensburg has moved back to the wing to make place for Lionel Mapoe in the centre and on the bench Elton Jantjies returns, while young hooker Malcolm Marx could earn a first Super Rugby cap.
Lions: Andries Coetzee, Deon van Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe, Stefan Watermeyer, Courtnall Skosan, Marnitz Boshoff, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (Captain), Willie Britz, Jaco Kriel, Martin Muller, Franco Mostert, Julian Redelinghuys, Willie Wepener, Schalk van der Merwe. Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Corné Fourie, Ruan Dreyer, MB Lusaseni, Warwick Tecklenburg, Ross Cronjé, Elton Jantjies, JW Jonker - The Star