JOHANNESBURG – Let’s not beat around the bush – the Rebels are rabble and the Lions should give them a hiding in Melbourne on Saturday.
The worst team in Super Rugby 2017 are coming off a 44-3 beating by the Southern Kings and their paltry one win from eight matches is proof of how poor they’ve been this year. But if you needed more evidence of why the Lions have to pick up five points against them, take notice of the following stats:
The Rebels have only scored nine tries so far and let in 41 compared to the Lions, who’ve scored 41 and let in 21; they’ve made only 60 clean-breaks compared to the Lions’ 109 and they’ve beaten 124 defenders compared to the Lions’ 221.
The difference in class between the teams and the form they’re currently in is clear for everyone to see, yet it remains a match the Lions have to be careful about. And coach Johan Ackermann knows it.
“They’re a desperate side, with their backs to wall. They’ve really struggled so far, but they’re back at home and we’ve seen they’ve made life tough for visitors to Melbourne this year,” said Ackermann on Thursday.
“They’re going to want to make things right against a team that’s doing well at this stage and that’s not arrogance on our part.
“Every team we come up against now wants to make a statement, it’s part of the game. We’ve got a tag on our back, like the New Zealand teams always have.”
Ackermann admitted his side’s biggest challenge on Saturday was themselves.
“The Rebels won’t lack for motivation. For us, it’s a big physical, but also mental challenge. We simply cannot underestimate them.
“I’ve seen in this competition that if you’re not switched on 100 percent, and another team is they’ll beat you. We’ve got to respect the Rebels and keep pushing if we want to progress to the play-offs later in the season.”
To freshen things up, Ackermann has brought Ross Cronje, pictured, into the starting team after he sat out last week against the Force, while Cyle Brink and Lourens Erasmus also get opportunities in the run-on side in place of Ruan Ackermann and Andries Ferreira respectively.
There are three newcomers to the bench in Akker van der Merwe, Hencus van Wyk and Robert Kruger.
It is clear the Lions boss wants to keep some of his more seasoned and first choice players back for next week’s final tour game against the Brumbies in Canberra, their most difficult match on tour.
Lions STARTING XV: Andries Coetzee, Sylvian Mahuza, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Warren Whiteley (capt), Cyle Brink, Kwagga Smith, Franco Mostert, Lourens Erasmus, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Jacques van Rooyen; Bench: Akker van der Merwe, Corne Fourie, Hencus van Wyk, Ruan Ackermann, Robert Kruger, Dillon Smit, Jacques Nel, Anthony Volmink
Rebels STARTING XV: Reece Hodge, Sefa Naivalu, Tom English, Mitch Inman, Marika Koroibete, Ben Volavola, Ben Meehan, Amanaki Mafi, Colby Fainga’a (capt), Hugh Sinclair, Dominic Day, Steve Cummins, Laurie Weeks, James Hanson, Toby Smith; Bench: Siliva Siliva, Fereti Sa’aga, Tyrel Lomax, Culum Retallick, Will Miller, Harrison Goddard, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Jack Maddocks