Another epic clash expected between the Lions and Sharks
JOHANNESBURG - In recent memory the encounters between the Lions and the Sharks have been real ding-dong battles - war of attritions as both sides wrestle for dominance around the field. The Sharks might have the wood over their opposition at the moment, but the Doornfontein-based outfit is enjoying a time of solidity and dependability.
Earlier this season, during Super Rugby Unlocked, the Sharks beat the Joburgers 19-16 in Durban with a penalty in the 72th minute to pull just ahead of their opposition. It could have been a draw had Lions captain Elton Jantjies not missed a kick a few minutes later. Some wonky decision-making by the skipper might have also cost them the victory on that day.
The Lions team that will play the Sharks tomorrow (kick-off 7pm) is arguably a far cry from that team. They now have some street-smarts in their ranks, which has improved their game management and helped Jantjies into a more consistent and thoughtful approach. The biggest change from that initial encounter is that the Lions are now playing with a settled outfit, one that is improving constantly and is showing a greater amount of form as the Carling Currie Cup builds to its zenith next year.
That was the case again yesterday when coach Ivan “Cash“ van Rooyen selected his matchday squad to face the coastal outfit at Emirates Airline Park. There were no changes, except a few possible injuries, and there were no real surprises either.
Man of the Match of the Cheetahs game, Vincent Tshituka, and prop Sti Sithole might miss the encounter due to those concerns but their fitness and readiness for the clash will be assessed ahead of the match. If they are unable to participate, Van Rooyen will fall back on Willem van der Sluys and the highly-rated Dylan Smith - not to shabby for both the coach and team's ambitions.
"We really feel like we have a competitive squad,“ said Van Rooyen of the depth his team enjoys.
"There is a nice blend between seniors and juniors. Unfortunate for Sti - we will see how is is going - but it is great to let Dylan back in. He has been training well. I'm excited for him to step up and the same with Wilhelm. It is a little bit of an experiment. He has been coming off the bench for us to play at No 7.“
For their sterling outing last weekend, Jannie du Plessis and Andre Warner have been entrusted to once again start the match - both were try scorers against the Cheetahs and both played with power and verve during that game.
Said Van Rooyen of Warner's selection in particular: “We've been saying from the beginning that we are blessed with four very good No 9s ...
“Ross (Cronje) and Andre are the seniors campaigners with a lot of experience. Their kicking game is their strength, their calmness in attack and decision-making is their strength. Both organise defence well.
"Krappie (Morne van den Berg) is very exciting,“ the coach continued. ”He brings something else to the team, he brings a lot of energy, maybe a little more of a X-factor. I am very happy with the way Andre took his opportunity the way he did last week ... we are expecting a nice calmness and direction from (him) when he starts and depending on how it is going in the game, whether Krappie must turn up the pace, or do we want him to bring a kicking game, do we want him to bring a running game or whatever it is, we will be nice and clear with him before he goes on.“
No inclement weather is expected to disrupt the match, and if the Lions do win, there is a possibility of leap-frogging the Sharks from fourth into second spot on the log. That will only solidify their confidence as they wind down their regular season against the Bulls and Pumas in the coming weeks.
Lions Starting XV: Tiaan Swanepoel, Stean Pienaar, Wandisile Simeland, Dan Kriel, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies (capt), Andre Warner; Len Massyn, Vincent Tshituka/Wilhelm van der Sluys, Jaco Kriel, Marvin Orie, Willem Alberts, Jannie du Plessis, Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole/Dylan Smith; Replacements: Jan-Henning Campher, Ruan Dreyer, Wiehahn Herbst, Reinhard Nothnagel, Roelof Smith, Morne van den Berg, Burger Odendaal, Jamba Ulengo, Carlu Sadie, Manuel Rass