Johannesburg - Daunting, yes, but by no means an impossible task. The Stormers are certainly one of the more respected, and feared, outfits in Super Rugby, but if there was ever a perfect time to take them on and stand a chance of beating them, it is now.
That is the scenario facing Johan Ackermann’s Lions today as they square up to the men from the Cape.
Yes, history suggests that the Stormers will win the tie at Ellis Park quite comfortably and man for man, Allister Coetzee’s side still possess more quality. But the Lions could not have wished for a better platform to take on South Africa’s most consistent performers in recent years.
The Lions are coming off a morale-boosting first-round win, away to the Cheetahs, and will be brimming with confidence going into the match on home soil, and in front of what is expected to be a big home crowd.
The Stormers are only getting their campaign under way today after having a bye in Round 1 and may be a little rusty – as suggested by Ackermann in the week – while no less than five men in their team will be on debut. Missing from the Stormers side are the likes of Eben Etzebeth and Juan de Jongh, key players in anyone’s book.
Young Michael van der Spuy in the midfield and wing Kobus van Wyk are just two players the Lions will look to target, but also up front, in the scrums and line-outs, the Lions could feel they may have the edge, especially after their strong showing against the Cheetahs.
The Stormers’ loose trio, though, with Schalk Burger back in the mix, could prove a handful for the hosts.
Key for the Lions today will be their ability to hang onto the ball for long periods and put the visitors under pressure and, as Ackermann alluded to this week, stay patient, because the Stormers will almost certainly be a tough team to break down in defence.
The goal-kicking of Marnitz Boshoff could prove vital, as it will for Demetri Catrakilis. It was the difference between winning and losing in Bloemfontein last week and could well prove decisive today.
Of course, Ackermann – and Lions fans – will be hoping Warren Whiteley’s team will be able to produce a little more magic on attack.
The Lions didn’t come close to scoring a try a week ago and if they are to win more than they lose this year, they’re going to have to find a way to breach the defences and cross the whitewash.
It should be a fascinating duel between two teams who play the game very differently.
If the Lions really want to make a big statement, they need to follow up last weekend’s win with another victory, and then perhaps one can start talking about them being a real factor this year.
In Durban, the Sharks will be favourites to continue on their merry way after a bonus-point win to start against the Bulls last week, when they entertain the Hurricanes.
It’s a tough start for the men from New Zealand, having had to travel across the Indian Ocean to South Africa for their first game of the competition.
Like the Stormers, who may be a bit rusty, the Hurricanes will also take some time to settle into Super Rugby again.
Lions v Stormers 7.10pm; Sharks v Hurricanes 5.05pm; Brumbies v Reds 10.40am; Highlanders v Blues 8.35am
Waratahs v Force 7.05am