If at the beginning of the Super Rugby season you had offered Johan Ackermann a 50percent win rate at the halfway mark of their season, he would probably have taken it.
But, after the promising start his side made on their return to the competition (four wins from six), Ackermann probably feels his outfit should be in a better position after having played half their games. Four from eight isn’t to be scoffed at, but consecutive home defeats against the Crusaders and Sharks in the last fortnight has left the Lions in ninth position on the log – and they still have to tour.
Many observers feel this year’s campaign is already a successful one, but others feel the Lions could well end up not winning another game; that their fairy-tale run is over.
There were whispers at Ellis Park on Saturday evening, after Ackermann’s men crashed to the Sharks, that the Lions will do extremely well to add to the 16 points they have bagged so far.
And the reasoning is due to the following: They face a desperate Stormers side in Cape Town this weekend, before going abroad for matches against the Chiefs, Highlanders, Waratahs and Force and then return home for clashes with the Bulls, Rebels and Cheetahs – none of these will be easy games.
By the time they are back on home turf, they are almost sure to have lost a few more men to injury and the confidence may well be shot – but those matches are still a good few weeks away and victory in Cape Town this weekend could just as easily boost the players ahead of their trip to Australasia.
Newlands has not been the happiest hunting ground for the Lions – the Capetonians winning all the previous matches on home turf – but then this year hasn’t been like seasons past. The Stormers have struggled, at home and away, and occupy last spot on the points table.
The last time the teams met – at Ellis Park in round two – the Lions won comfortably 34-10 and they will certainly feel they have a chance of winning again and re-igniting their challenge.
“We don’t take losing two in a row very lightly, especially when those defeats have been at home, so this weekend’s match is very important,” said Lions skipper Warren Whiteley.
“We haven’t thought about touring yet, but we know how important it will be to win before going abroad.”
It should be a fascinating encounter between two teams who have been extremely try-shy this year – the Stormers have scored just 10 five-pointers and the Lions 11 – and who need to win for very different reasons.
The Stormers have struggled to adapt to losing several key men to injury, while the Lions, now eight games in, are also battling for consistency in selection as more and more players are struck down. Ackermann names his line-up today but he will be forced to make a few significant changes following the defeat by the Sharks.
Willie Wepener (hamstring), Deon van Rensburg (knee) and Andries Coetzee (knee), all starters last weekend, will miss the game while Alwyn Hollenbach (cut lip), who was on the bench, will stay put.
Coming into the starting team will be Robbie Coetzee, Anthony Volmink and either Chrysander Botha or Coenie van Wyk, while JW Jonker will, in all likelihood, replace Hollenbach on the bench. Ackermann may also consider returning Jaco Kriel to the starting XV, with Willie Britz moving back to the bench.
Lions (probable): Chrysander Botha, Anthony Volmink, Lionel Mapoe, Stefan Watermeyer, Courtnal Skosan, Marnitz Boshoff, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (capt), Derick Minnie, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Martin Muller, Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee, Schalk van der Merwe. Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Corné Fourie, Ruan Dreyer, MB Lusaseni, Willie Britz, Ross Cronjé, Elton Jantjies, JW Jonker - The Star