Johannesburg – With a winning percentage of 33percent in the Currie Cup, the Lions will probably need a miracle if they’re to go on and win the title this year.
But before they can even think about doing what they did two years ago – beat Western Province and the Sharks in the knockout games – to win the trophy under John Mitchell’s guidance, they need to get past Griquas in their final round-robin match on Saturday. Failure to win against Pote Human’s much-changed side and victory for the Bulls over the Cheetahs could see the Lions finish out of the play-off places.
The Lions will start as favourites on Saturday, but only because they’re at home and up against a side who last won in round one and will finish last irrespective of what happens at Ellis Park. Human knows this and it’s the reason why he’s made 12 changes to his team.
But going into the business end of the competition, Lions boss Johan Ackermann will not be a happy man. His team have won just three matches all competition; and that despite them leading the way in several areas of the game. The Lions have scored the most points in total (291), they’ve scored the most tries (36) and they’ve bagged the most number of bonus points (seven, four of which are from scoring four tries or more in a game). Defensively though the Lions have been poor, and that’s why they’re still fighting for a semi-finals places this weekend.
Having conceded 268 points against all opposition, they’re second worst to Griquas (291), while they’ve let in 30 tries and again it’s only Griquas who have fared worse, conceding 32.
Perhaps the topsy-turvy showing has something to do with the fact the Lions have fielded just three men who’ve played in all nine games up to now. Captain Derick Minnie and backs Marnitz Boshoff and Anthony Volmink have been picked by Ackermann in all nine games but injuries and a rotational policy has meant all the other squad members have jumped in and out of the starting team. And, in the case of Minnie and Boshoff, neither has settled on one position – Minnie has alternated between eighthman, No7 flank and openside and Boshoff between flyhalf and fullback.
“We’ve had injuries from the start of the competition,” said Ackermann this week. “No week has gone by where we haven’t lost a player to something or had to nurse a guy through a problem. It’s a tough competition and you also need to rest players, especially those guys who’ve got niggles ... you can’t afford to play them knowing another knock will put them out for a while.”
Ackermann will again rest two players this week – Ruan Dreyer and Jaco Kriel – both of whom are carrying light injuries. “We don’t want them to get any worse than they are,” said the coach.
“This is the end of the competition and if we make it through to the semi-finals we’re going to need as many fit players as we can get. We need to play well this weekend, following the defeats to the Sharks and Western Province.”