Johannesburg - Lions boss Johan Ackermann has wasted no time in heaping all the pressure on the Bulls ahead of the teams’ Super Rugby fixture at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Despite being only ninth on the points table the Bulls are still in with a shout of making the top six and playing in the knockout rounds, but to achieve their goals they will just about have to win all their remaining games, starting with the Lions this weekend.
Ackermann’s men, just back from a winless overseas tour, are out of the reckoning but they’ll be desperate to finish their Super Rugby campaign on a high.
“The Bulls are playing with a lot of confidence at the moment and we’re pretty sure they’ll try to make their mark on the game inside the first 20 minutes,” said Ackermann on Wednesday. “They’ve certainly got all the pressure on them. We’re at home and there’s a lot of energy in the camp and we’ll be able to play the way we want to play.”
Indeed, the Lions will have a licence to play an expansive game and pretty much go for broke, while Frans Ludeke’s team may approach the contest slightly differently knowing how much is riding on the outcome. After this weekend’s matches the competition comes to a halt for four weeks while the Test window opens up.
Ackermann gave some indication of how the Lions will play this weekend by including an attacking backline, with plenty of pace. Besides picking speedy wingers Courtnall Skosan and Chrysander Botha, Ackermann has also included in his starting team Stokkies Hanekom for the first time this year. Hanekom is a very exciting prospect, especially when he’s on the front foot, but his defensive problems probably cost him a place in the team earlier this year. He’ll be joined in the midfield by Alwyn Hollenbach.
“Stokkies has been in good form at Vodacom Cup level and he’s a real outside-centre specialist,” said Ackermann. “He’s very creative and he likes playing attacking rugby.”
It must be said though a place in the centres was available following injuries to Stefan Watermeyer, Lionel Mapoe and JW Jonker.
Ackermann also recalled his first choice front row after given them a rest against the Western Force last weekend.
Lions skipper Warren Whiteley said his young squad had grown up on tour and they are all looking forward to taking on the Bulls, on home turf. “The experience everyone gained on tour was huge,” said Whiteley. “The results didn’t go our way, but it was a fantastic tour in many respects, on and off the field. We’re now looking forward to the next challenge and there’s great excitement for the Bulls.”
* Meanwhile, the Lions, in partnership with Sun International, on Wednesday announced a ticket package around the All Blacks Test they will host at Ellis Park on October 4.
The package allows ticket holders access to all the remaining Super Rugby games, all home Currie Cup games and the Test, as well as exclusive benefits at Sun International properties. The Test ticket packages are available at R1050 (excluding parking). The first 500 packages sold will also include next month’s Test against Wales in Nelspruit. For more details see www.lionsrugby.co.za, while tickets can be bought at lionsrugby.computicket.com.
Lions: Coenie van Wyk, Courtnall Skosan, Stokkies Hanekom, Alwyn Hollenbach, Chrysander Botha, Marnitz Boshoff, Ross Cronjé, Warren Whiteley (capt), Warwick Tecklenburg, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Rudi Mathee, Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee, Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: Armand van der Merwe, Corné Fourie, Ruan Dreyer, Willie Britz, Derick Minnie, Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Deon van Rensburg.