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Lions are licking their chops ahead of Bulls visit

Super Rugby
JOHANNESBURG - By far South Africa’s best Super Rugby team against arguably the country's worst-performing outfit. That’s what’s in store when the Lions host the Bulls in what would usually be an eagerly awaited clash at Ellis Park this weekend.

But so contrasting has been the form of the two Gauteng sides that one’s got to wonder whether this derby will come close to producing the kind of rugby one would usually expect when the Lions and Bulls clash on the rugby field.

Not too many observers would have thought at the beginning of the season that the Lions would have won 10 out of 11 matches at this stage of the competition, or that the Bulls would have only racked up three wins from 10 outings, and seemingly out of the running to feature in the knockout rounds.

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Photo: EPA/JULIAN SMITH

It has, up to now, been a largely better than expected showing by Johan Ackermann’s men and an equally unexpected showing by Nollis Marais and his team, of which much was expected when the season kicked off in February.

What would ordinarily be a much hyped build-up to Saturday’s showdown, with both teams having their supporters, it is fair to suggest even die-hard Bulls fans must be predicting a win for the Lions.

Ackermann’s men are riding a wave of confidence after their three-match tour of Australia and so far have managed to score a whopping 49 tries, while the Bulls haven’t won in weeks and have managed just 23 tries.

The Lions are a settled outfit, with no one questioning their style of rugby or game plan, and there are no concerns around team selection; in fact they’ll probably welcome back into the mix this week Jaco Kriel, Madosh Tambwe and Ruan Combrinck.

The Bulls, on the other hand, are under pressure to not only win to salvage their campaign, but coach Marais and his assistants are being criticised almost on a daily basis, while the Bulls’ brand of rugby has yet to convince the most ardent of fans.

On top of that, the men from Pretoria have a number of injury concerns and are set to also be without one of their star players in lock RG Snyman this week, following his red-card at the weekend.

Warren Whiteley of the Lions in action during the Super Rugby match between the Brumbies and the Lions at GIO Stadium. Photo: EPA/LUKAS COCH

The Bulls would have no doubt had what is called a flush-out session at Loftus yesterday, while the Lions, who arrived back in the country from Australia early on Sunday, had the day off.

Ackermann, among others, enjoyed watching the Golden Lions take on the Valke in a SuperSport Challenge match in Bosmont on Sunday afternoon, an indication of how relaxed and content the Lions are ahead of Saturday’s match in Johannesburg.

The coach and his charges, who are chasing their 11th win in 12 matches this weekend, will return to the training ground today to start preparations for the Bulls’ visit.

After battling to get their hands on the ball, and spending most of the 80 minutes defending, in their final tour match against the Brumbies in Canberra last Friday, the Lions will no doubt focus their attention this week on ball retention, but also work on their option taking and line kicking; aspects of their game that were not up to scratch in the Australian capital.

But, compared to the Bulls, there will not be too much in the Lions camp that will keep Ackermann and Co awake at night.

@jacq_west

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The Star

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