JOHANNESBURG - Not since April 30 last year has a team come to Ellis Park and beaten the Lions. In fact, no team has come to the home of the Lions and even given them a scare.
And on Saturday, one’s got to wonder why anything will be different when the Sharks visit Joburg?
It has been one-way traffic since the Hurricanes inflicted a 50-17 defeat on Johan Ackermann’s men almost a year ago, with the Super Rugby side winning eight games on the trot (six last year and two this year) and four Currie Cup matches, too. In that time, the Lions have scored 53 Super Rugby tries and 30 Currie Cup tries.
In seven of their last eight matches on home soil the Lions have scored more than 40 points; three of those times they’ve gone over 50, and only once have they been kept to a score in the 30s ... and that by the Sharks in the latter stages of last year’s competition.
On that day the Lions scored five tries to the Sharks’ two and won 37-10 and if the visitors are to take any confidence into Saturday evening’s game it’s that they’ve done fairly okay in Joburg in recent times. That said, nothing less than a victory should be deemed acceptable ... especially for a team like the Sharks.
There is no doubt Ackermann’s men will be the huge favourites again in this round six Super Rugby clash; they have been scoring tries aplenty and winning well and their home record is now something to be proud of. They’re also very close to being at full-strength today, missing only Julian Redelinghuys, Lionel Mapoe and Ruan Combrinck of the potential first choice players, while the Sharks are without the massively influential Beast Mtawarira and Pat Lambie.
The visitors’ biggest test will be whether they can handle the pace of the Lions game, especially on the Highveld, and whether their bench-sitters will be able to make the necessary impact when called upon later on. Johan Ackermann’s men play at a ferocious speed, ask questions all around the field, and there’s no let up when the replacements enter the fray.
Also, there will be fire in the belly of the Lions players who dropped their standards badly in the second half against the Kings last weekend and will want to right those wrongs. In fact, it’s something hooker Malcolm Marx said will certainly be the case: “We’ve got a responsibility to play at a certain level and what happened in PE is not what the Lions are about. We’ve looked at what went wrong, put it behind us, and now we want to make up for it."
The Sharks will bring fire to the match but they’ll be tested in the scrums without Mtawarira while skipper Tera Mtembu and his fellow loosies, the Du Preez twins, Daniel and Jean-Luc, face a massive challenge trying to keep the free-running Lions back-row players in check.
But it’s at the back where the Lions may prove to be just too good for the visitors. No one has been able to contain the likes of Faf de Klerk, who will have plenty to prove after missing out on an invite to next week’s Bok training camp, Elton Jantjies, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Courtnall Skosan and Andries Coetzee in recent times on home soil and they’ll again look to out-smart the Sharks with their handling, running lines, pace and width in their game.
Lions team: Andries Coetzee, Madosh Tambwe, Harold Vorster, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (capt), Ruan Ackermann, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Jacques van Rooyen. Replacements: Akker van der Merwe, Corné Fourie, Johannes Jonker, Lourens Erasmus, Kwagga Smith, Ross Cronjé, Jacques Nel, Dillon Smit.
Sharks team: Garth April, Kobus van Wyk, Lukhanyo Am, André Esterhuizen, Lwazi Mvovo, Curwin Bosch, Cobus Reinach, Daniel du Preez, Jean-Luc du Preez, Tera Mtembu (capt), Ruan Botha, Etienne Oosthuizen, Coenie Oosthuizen, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Thomas du Toit. Replacements: Franco Marais, Juan Schoeman, Lourens Adriaanse, Stephan Lewies, Jacques Vermeulen, Michael Claassens, Inny Radebe, Jeremy Ward.
Referee: Jaco van Heerden