Johannesburg – Bonus-point wins will be a thing of the past for either Western Province or the Golden Lions by the time their third-round Currie Cup clash ends at Newlands on Saturday.
Both teams have enjoyed terrific starts to the 2014 competition by clocking up maximum log points although the Lions have fared better in the collective try-count with 13 touchdowns as against 10 by Province.
The Lions will run out at Newlands without talisman eighthman Warren Whiteley, who has led from the front, and now finds himself in the Springbok squad.
His Bok call-up comes two weeks after the Lions lost their matchwinner, flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff, who has been sidelined by a fractured arm.
The Whiteley void has been filled by the wily Willie Britz, and tough-as-nails flanker Derick Minnie takes over the captaincy.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann felt Britz was the perfect shoe-in for Whiteley.
“Willie and Warren are similar in that they play off other players. Our combination, with two guys playing towards the ball and Willie as the link, is still correct,” said Ackermann.
“He (Whiteley) is an inspiration for the players off the field as well. We are going to miss that but that is the one position where there is a lot of competition.”
This will be the first time this season that the Lions will have to cope with the double setback and it could start chewing away at their hitherto all-round effectiveness.
One of the main reasons for the Lions' strength in this competition has been the fact that they have not had Bok call-ups and consequently they have been able to field a Super Rugby outfit in the Currie Cup.
Given Province's new-found style of play, the Newlands-based team is probably best equipped to expose any signs of vulnerability in the Lions' game.
The set piece and the ability to exploit turn-over possession has been central to both team's success this season.
Last week against the Blue Bulls, they did not enjoy the lion's share of possession but when they secured turn-over ball they lashed out with a six-try performance.
Province coach Allister Coetzee has identified how equally effective the Lions have been when switching to attack, even from deep defensive positions.
“The Lions represent a big test for us as they are not scared to have a go with ball in hand, even from their own goalline,” said Coetzee.
“I'd say they are the overall favourites in the Currie Cup. They're the pace-setters, they have a good set-piece and, like I said, they're not scared to attack from anywhere.”
The Currie Cup favourites tag is something that Ackermann is not entirely comfortable with.
“It brings new pressure. In Super Rugby we were always the underdogs, now suddenly people will tag us as favourites to win matches,” said Ackermann.
“There are too many rounds left to get excited (at this stage).” – Sapa