Stop the Sharks’ big ball-carriers – that’s the message Lions’ coach Johan Ackermann has delivered to his players ahead of the teams’ Super Rugby showdown in Durban tomorrow.
Ackermann feels that if his young players can halt the momentum created by the likes of Bismarck du Plessis, Jean Deysel, Willem Alberts and Pieter-Steph du Toit the Lions will be in with a chance of winning their third game of the competition. Add to that list Tendai Mtawarira, Marcell Coetzee and Ryan Kankowski and you realise that the Sharks have a monster pack, a group of players capable of inflicting much damage.
“The Sharks have Boks all over the place and they’re in good condition,” Ackermann said yesterday.
“They play direct rugby, using their big ball-carriers, and they’re very physical. Tactically, we’re going to have to be much better than we were against the Bulls (last weekend when the Lions lost).
“If we’re to make sure it’s not a long evening for us, we’re going to have to play in the right areas of the field and look after our ball. There were just too many knocks last week, we lost line-outs and conceded scrum penalties. And then in defence, we’re going to have to match their directness … stop those big ball-carriers.”
Captain Warren Whiteley said the challenge awaiting his men was massive. “They’ve got a Bok front row and really good loosies, but we’ve shown we can stand up to these guys. We’re relishing the challenge … we want to measure ourselves against a team like this.”
While both Ackermann and Whiteley acknowledge it’ll be a big battle up front, the Lions will still look to play their expansive, running game.
“I’ve got a group of players here who want to play exciting rugby,” said Ackermann.
“I don’t want to put them in a box. I want them to have a go but we have to be more clever than we were a week ago.
“I hear it’s going to be wet in Durban and that means we’re simply going to have to use the weather to our advantage.”
The good news for the Lions is that they’ve spent the whole week training in the wet. Also, last weekend’s game at Loftus was played in the rain.
For the fourth game in a row, Ackermann has selected a different midfield combination. The men doing duty this week are Stefan Watermeyer, mainstay of the centres, and veteran wing Deon van Rensburg.
“Midfield is a bit of a problem now, but it hasn’t helped that Lionel Mapoe and Alwyn Hollenbach got injured. We needed cover on the bench so we’ve moved JW Jonker down, with Deon coming in at centre. He has a good history of playing at 13,” Ackermann said.
In the other key change, Elton Jantjies returns at flyhalf after recovering from injury, with Marnitz Boshoff shifting to fullback. “We’ve now got left and right-footed kickers at 10 and 15 and Elton brings an X-factor to flyhalf,” the Lions’ boss explained. Elsewhere, Willie Wepener swops places with hooker Robbie Coetzee, while prop Corne Fourie gets a chance as prop cover.
Lions: Marnitz Boshoff, Ruan Combrink, Stefan Watermeyer, Deon van Rensburg, Chrysander Botha, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (capt), Warwick Tecklenburg, Jaco Kriel, Franco van der Merwe, Franco Mostert, Julian Redelinghuys, Willie Wepener, Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: Robbie Coetzee, Corne Fourie, Ruan Dreyer, MB Lusaseni, Willie Britz, Ross Cronje, JW Jonker, Coenie van Wyk. - The Star