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Jacques van der Westhuyzen
JUST FOUR weeks ago, the Lions produced the biggest shock in Super Rugby 2012 when they beat the high-flying Sharks 38-28 at Coca-Cola Park.
Not many expected it, and even fewer predicted it, but now, after “putting their feet up” for the Test series against England, the Lions face an altogether different test when they man up to the Stormers in Cape Town.
The win against the Sharks was just the second for the Lions in this year’s competition and was arguably their best 80-minute showing all year. But how much has the enforced break in the competition affected Josh Strauss’s team – and all the other Super Rugby sides for that matter?
The Lions have little to play for other than pride – and maybe their place in Super Rugby 2013, as they’re second from bottom – but they’ll be hoping to end their season on a high. And making their assignment in Cape Town just a tad more complicated is the fact they’ll be without the suspended John Mitchell for the first time, while the Stormers won’t quite be at full strength.
Allister Coetzee has opted to rest some of his big-name stars, while a few others will play off the bench.
Strauss admitted yesterday he would have loved to take on the Stormers the week after beating the Sharks and not having to wait four weeks for the match. “The Sharks win was a brilliant game for us and we would have liked to take that momentum into the next week,” he said yesterday.
“But the feeling in the camp is good right now and the guys are pumped after sitting out for so long. The win against the Sharks was certainly a big boost for everyone, considering how we’d gone up to then.”
He added that he was unsure how the players would perform after such a lengthy break in the competition. “Look, the rest was excellent … because of our injury situation this year we didn’t really get much opportunity to rest the core of our team. But the guys are hungry to play again.
“I’m sure the thought of rustiness will be in the back of our minds, but the fact that there’s good continuity in the team means we’ll hopefully be able to delete that rustiness.”
Johan Ackermann, who’s taken over the role of head coach from Mitchell, said that while it had been a challenging week, everyone in the camp had simply got down to doing what they needed to do to prepare for the Stormers test. “We knuckled down and kept the training programme as close to what it has been all year … it’s what the players are familiar with.
There’s a good energy in the camp and it’s helped that I’ve been able to pick a team that’s pretty much the same as the one that’s played recently,” said Ackermann.
Pat Cilliers and Cobus Grobbelaar won’t be involved this weekend, while CJ van der Linde will undergo a fitness test this morning. The rest of the side is unchanged from the one that shocked the Sharks.
Lions starting XV: Andries Coetzee, Deon van Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe, Butch James, Anthonie Volminck, Elton Jantjies, Tian Meyer, Joshua Strauss (capt), Grant Hattingh, Derick Minnie, Franco van der Merwe, Hendrik Roodt, Jacobie Adriaanse, Callie Visagie, JC Janse van Rensburg. Replacements: Martin Bezuidenhout, CJ van der Linde/Ruaan Dreyer, Ruan Botha, Jaco Kriel, Michael Bondesio, Waylon Murray, Ruan Combrinck