They’ve won six of their seven games so far and will fancy their chances of winning their remaining eight matches. Rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen looks at what Johan Ackermann’s team have ahead of them as the competition nears the halfway point.
Friday – Jaguares (home)
The men from Argentina are the only side to have beaten the Lions this season – they triumphed 36-24 in Buenos Aires a month ago – but the Lions should win at Ellis Park. Ackermann’s team haven’t lost on their home patch in nine outings, and should pick up a further four or five points.
April 29 – Western Force (away)
The Lions will fancy their chances of starting their three-match tour of Australia with a win against the men from Perth. The Force are in no-man’s-land at the moment, unsure about their future in the competition, while their form has also been poor; they’ve won just two out of six matches.
May 6 – Rebels (away)
Like the Force, the men from Melbourne have concerns about their future as Super Rugby looks to scale down to 15 teams next year and, while they shocked the Brumbies last weekend, they’re a side the Lions will fancy getting the better of.
May 12 – Brumbies (away)
Last season’s Australian Conference winners may still be their country’s best team – and a good bet for the playoffs – but they’re not a side that will strike fear into any team. In a shockingly weak Aussie Conference, they are streets ahead of the rest, having won three of their seven matches, but it’s not a record to be proud of. Ackermann’s men will believe they can beat all three opponents on tour.
May 20 – Bulls (home)
Having already bossed the Cheetahs, Kings, Sharks and Stormers, the next time the Lions are in action against a South African team will be the Bulls, who right now are struggling to keep up with the Stormers in Africa Conference 1. They will be up for the Lions, but at home, the Lions will always be favourites.
May 28 – Kings (home)
The Lions will play their first Sunday game at Ellis Park against the men from the Eastern Cape who will, by that stage, know their fate in the competition. Deon Davids’ men haven’t performed as poorly as some thought they would, but by the end of May, they’ll be cannon-fodder for a team like the Lions. Ackermann’s men won’t like a Sunday game, but they’ll win it at a canter.
June Test Window
The international break in June will see all the teams get a month off to recuperate and recover for the final push in July and August, but the Lions are sure to have several players turning out for the Springboks against France and Ackermann will hope none of his players pick up serious long-term injuries.
July 1 – Sunwolves (home)
They return from their “time off” for a date with the Sunwolves, a team that will be well rested and hopeful of a good showing in their first visit to Ellis Park, but they won’t have enough firepower in the tank to trouble the home team.
Unlike their first bye which came at the “perfect time” according to Ackermann, after six matches, their second bye comes after just one game back following the international break and before their final round-robin fixture.
July 15 – Sharks (away)
The Lions wrap up their league schedule with a trip to Durban for the return fixture against the Sharks who at this stage are their biggest rivals for topping the Africa Conference 2 table; they’re six points behind the Lions (22 points to 28).
The Sharks pushed the Lions all the way at Ellis Park a few weeks ago and on their home turf, they’ll fancy their chances of beating Ackermann’s men. It’ll be a cracker of a game.
Predictor: The Lions finished their league schedule with 52 points from 11 wins in 15 games last season, and are well on their way to topping that this year.
They’ve got 28 points, with eight games remaining, six more wins without collecting any bonus points would give them a further 24 points for an overall total of 52; the same as last year.
But it could be a more which could put them top of the pile. They’ll be desperate to achieve that after missing out on hosting the final last year.