Smart and clinical rugby – that’s what the Lions need to produce today if they’re to continue their fairy-tale return to Super Rugby.
Johan Ackermann’s team are on the verge of registering their third straight win against overseas opposition, following wins against the Blues and Reds, and in the Crusaders, who they face at Ellis Park this evening, they’re up against another dynamic side who love nothing more than attacking from all parts of the ground.
It’s another big test for the Lions rookies; up against a star-studded Crusaders team who, by far, are the most successful franchise in the competition. This season, however, the men from Christchurch have been well below their usual standard and the Lions will feel they can, indeed, make it three on the trot against Australasian opposition.
But, if they are to achieve a fifth victory of the competition, they’re going to have to play with the same intensity, hunger and desire they showed before their bye week; and that’s a challenge all by itself. Ackermann, though, is confident the break did his players good, saying this week they’re fresh, re-invigorated and re-energised.
More importantly, the Lions will have to be switched on for the full 80 minutes – unlike what transpired when they faced the Blues (they conceded five second-half tries) and the Reds (they started poorly and had to fight back in the second half). The Crusaders, despite winning just twice in five matches, remain a very dangerous side and, like the Lions’ two previous opponents, have the ability to rip any side apart.
“The key is looking after the ball,” said Ackermann this week. “We’ve identified that the Crusaders will punish any team with turnover ball, so we can’t afford to gift them possession. They’re also a team who like to surprise the opposition with quick-tap penalties so we’re going to have to be smart.”
While both teams have the potential to score four tries – for the all-important bonus point – Ackermann says it’s something they’re not bothered about. The Lions have yet to score four tries in a match this year. “A win is a win, it doesn’t matter how it comes,” he said. “We simply want to keep the momentum going.”
Yes, the Crusaders remain a dangerous outfit, but they’re not as tough to break down as they once were and missing key No8 Kieran Read is a big blow for them. If the Lions play smartly and have the same dedication and commitment as they’ve displayed up to now then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have an excellent chance of picking up their fifth win.
In Cape Town, the Stormers are under immense pressure to turn their season around when they host the Waratahs. Allister Coetzee’s team are back on home soil after a disastrous tour and going into round eight have managed just one win from six matches.
There’s also been a shake-up in the coaching ranks with Gert Smal joining the franchise this week and there’s sure to be some unhappiness and uncertainty doing the rounds.
In Bloemfontein, the Cheetahs take on the Chiefs, also looking to bounce back after a disappointing tour. While Naka Drotske’s men will be more confident playing at home, the reality is they’ve never beaten the Chiefs, who’ll be full of confidence after staging a stunning come-from-behind draw with the Bulls last week. - Saturday Star