Johannesburg – The Lions may be in a superior position on the Super Rugby log but coach Johan Ackermann believes his side will still be considered as the underdogs in their match against the Crusaders at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.
The seven-time champion Crusaders are yet to find their straps as they languish at the bottom of the log with only two victories to their name so far this season.
The Johannesburg side, in comparison, has surprised all and sundry by how well they adjusted to the pressures of Super Rugby with four victories from four games.
“A few things haven't gone their way and perhaps they are going through a process where they have young players in key positions,” Ackermann said of the Crusaders' bad run in form.
“There is too much talent to write them off and you can't always put your finger on it... why they aren't winning those matches.”
Meanwhile, Ackermann made three changes to his run-on side with lock Martin Muller replacing Franco van der Merwe, who sustained a severe ankle injury that would keep him sidelined for six months.
Fullback Coenie van Wyk has been ruled out due to a knee injury with the fit-again Andries Coetzee taking his place in the last line of defence.
Lionel Mapoe will receive a starting berth as he moves from the bench to outside centre with Deon van Rensburg shifting to wing and JW Jonker to the bench in turn.
On the bench, Malcolm Marx is set to make his Super Rugby debut while Warwick Tecklenburg and Elton Jantjies are also two new inclusions for Saturday's fixture.
The Lions have so far this season been spared a long-list of injuries and the bye from the last week has also ensured the return of some players.
“If we can only have Robbie Coetzee, Michael Bondesio, Franco van der Merwe and Coenie van Wyk out at this stage of the competition Ä it is not ideal Ä but it is better than having a list of 10 or 12,” Ackermann said.
“Robbie and Coenie will probably be back next week then we've got even less and we actually only have Franco that is out long-term.
“That is a great situation, if we can keep that up in the next three weeks before we have another bye then we go on tour.”
The Lions are yet to score a bonus point this season for scoring four tries in a match but it was the last of Ackermann's concerns when his side was on a good winning wicket.
“If you give me a 23-20 win, I will take it, it doesn't matter how it comes, a win is a win, it keeps the momentum going forward,” he said.
“The Crusaders are a great attacking side and we like to attack, although things haven't gone our way with the tries this season. We missed a lot of opportunities but we are still a team that want to play exciting rugby and if the weather plays along, we might see a good game on the weekend.”
Lions team: Andries Coetzee, Deon van Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe, Stefan Watermeyer, Courtnall Skosan, Marnitz Boshoff, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (Captain), Willie Britz, Jaco Kriel, Martin Muller, Franco Mostert, Julian Redelinghuys, Willie Wepener, Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Corne Fourie, Ruan Dreyer, MB Lusaseni, Warwick Tecklenburg, Ross Cronje, Elton Jantjies, JW Jonker. – Sapa