JOHANNESBURG - Lions boss Johan Ackermann has called on his players to produce a Test-like performance when they host the Sunwolves at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The South African Super Rugby pace-setters are back in action this weekend after a month off, a time during which several of the players turned out for either the Springboks or the SA “A” side. No less than 13 starters against the Sunwolves represented their country at some stage during June.
The only player missing from a full-strength Lions side for the match on Saturday is captain Warren Whiteley, whose Super Rugby season is over because of a pelvic injury. Jaco Kriel has been named as the team leader in his absence.
Ackermann said he was expecting a big showing from his men against the Sunwolves. “With all the national players back we must keep the momentum going. These guys are all high on confidence and my expectation of them is to play at the high level they maintained over the last month ... with the same desire, hunger and intensity.”
The Sunwolves, having won just once in 12 outings this year, are unlikely to seriously threaten the Lions at home, but Ackermann said he felt it was important to still play his strongest team, even though many of the players have played and trained non-stop during June.
“It’s an important one for us ... to keep the pressure on the Crusaders,” explained the coach. “All we can do is keep winning and challenge for top spot later on. What happens to the Crusaders is out of our hands ... our main objective remains to play winning rugby, to score tries and to entertain the fans with our brand of rugby.”
Right now the Lions are secured of hosting a home quarter-final, and potentially a semi-final, but it is top spot overall they’re chasing to give themselves a home final, should they progress that far in the competition. With two games to go (against the Sunwolves and Sharks) the Lions have 56 points while the Crusaders have 63 points, with just the one match remaining, against the Hurricanes, away, in two weeks’ time.
“I want us to put in a big effort this weekend and then the guys can rest and freshen up next week, with the bye,” said Ackermann. “The guys need a break, which they’ll get next week, and then they’ll come back mentally and physically ready for the last stretch.
“It was an easy decision to pick the strongest team ... all the guys are in form and we need to bag this win,” said Ackermann.
* Meanwhile, Kriel has made it clear he will see out his contract with the Lions before deciding on the next move in his career. The flanker has been linked with a big money move to Wasps in England, but the eight-cap Bok said yesterday it would be premature to talk about where he will play next.
“Even my dad asked me the other day about the news of my supposed move to England,” said Kriel. “I’ve got a contract and am signed with the Lions until the end of Super Rugby 2018, but I’ve got nothing after that.” Kriel has also got a contract with Kubota Spears in Japan.
Lions STARTING XV:
Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Ruan Ackermann, Kwagga Smith, Jaco Kriel (capt), Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Jacques van Rooyen. Replacements: Akker van der Merwe, Corne Fourie, Johannes Jonker, Lourens Erasmus, Cyle Brink, Faf de Klerk, Jacques Nel, Sylvian Mahuza