Johannesburg – They took a decision at the beginning of the year to be South Africa’s most entertaining rugby team and they’ll stick to their attacking game plan when they face Western Province in a Currie Cup semi-final showdown in Cape Town on Saturday.
The Lions have scored the most number of tries of all six teams in the Premier Division – 40 – but they’ve also leaked the second most – 31. Coach Johan Ackermann, though, says his side will continue to adopt an attacking mindset at Newlands, even though scoring tries and bonus points mean nothing in a knockout game.
“A week is not enough time to change how you play the game. We’ve got guys in the team who want to express themselves ... that was part of our mission at the start of the year,” said Ackermann. “We wanted to get back into Super Rugby and we achieved that and, second, we wanted to play an exciting brand of rugby. We never wanted to be a defensive team or a kicking team. But, having said that, I’ve confidence in our No9 and No10 to make the right decisions on the field.”
The Lions then will look to continue with their expansive, running game, something that has brought them success this year, but has also cost them. The good news is that flyhalf Elton Jantjies is fit and returns to the No10 jersey.
“We’re happy he’s fit and can play this weekend. He’s got the experience and we all know how well he attacks the line. And with Marnitz (Boshoff) at fullback, we’ve got a left and right-footed kicker, so there are a lot of positives for us with this election,” said Ackermann.
CJ van der Linde also returns to the side after missing last week’s match against Griquas, while Ackermann has opted to go with five forwards on the bench, with just two backs.
Only a handful of the Lions players know what a Currie Cup semi-final is about, with the majority of the side having never tasted knockout rugby at this level.
And, add to that the fact the Lions are up against a team that hasn’t lost this year and boasts several experienced Springboks, among them Gio Aplon, Jean de Villiers, Siya Kolisi, Duane Vermeulen and Eben Etzebeth, and Schalk Burger on the bench, and you realise just what a task awaits Ackermann’s men.
“It’s a great challenge for us. Guys like Jacques van Rooyen, Robbie Coetzee, Julian Redelenghuys, Chris van Zyl, Chrysander Botha, Boshoff and Robert de Bruyn have never played in a semi-final or Super Rugby.
“But this is a great opportunity for them to measure themselves against the best. It also gives me a chance to see how they go and what we need to do in the next four months before our return to Super Rugby,” said Ackermann. “It’s a big day for a lot of these guys, they’re up against men who are the best in their positions in the country, but on my side, it’s guys who want to be the best. Province might have the experience, but hopefully our hunger and desire will see us through the 80 minutes.”
Lions: Marnitz Boshoff, Chrysander Botha, Lionel Mapoe, Andries Coetzee, Anthony Volmink, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronjé, Warren Whiteley, Derick Minnie (capt), Jaco Kriel, Franco van der Merwe, Chris van Zyl, Ruan Dreyer, Willie Wepener, CJ van der Linde. Replacements: Robbie Coetzee, Jacques van Rooyen, Julian Redelinghuys, Willie Britz, Warwick Tecklenburg, Tian Meyer, Robert de Bruyn
Western Province: Gio Aplon, Gerhard van den Heever, Jean de Villiers, Damian de Allende, Cheslin Kolbe, Demetri Catrakilis, Louis Schreuder, Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi, Deon Fourie (capt), De Kock Steenkamp, Eben Etzebeth, Pat Cilliers, Scarra Ntubeni, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Frans Malherbe, Brok Harris, Michael Rhodes, Schalk Burger, Nic Groom, Kurt Coleman, Juan de Jongh.