JOHANNESBURG – It’s not often that an opposition team come to Ellis Park and are deemed the favourites, but that’s what the Cheetahs are when they take on the Lions in a final-round Currie Cup clash on Saturday, kicking off at 5.15pm.
The defending champions from Bloemfontein may not have the best record in Joburg, but they’ll be boosted today by being able to include several Super Rugby stars in their squad – and the fact these men have been playing in a competition stronger and more competitive than the Currie Cup.
With the Europe-based PRO14 competition on a two-week break, the Cheetahs have not had to split their player group between that competition and the Currie Cup.
That means they have been able to include the likes of Raymond Rhule, Rosko Specman, Nico Lee, William Small-Smith, Makazole Mapimpi, Tian Meyer, Oupa Mohoje, Paul Schoeman, Henco Venter, Johan Coetzee and Torsten van Jaarsveld in their team.
It is not so much the better quality players the Lions have to fear because they, too, are bolstered by the availability of four Springboks – Malcolm Marx, Ross Cronjé, Courtnall Skosan and Andries Coetzee – but it is the standard of rugby the Cheetahs have been subjected to in the last month.
The PRO14 is far more competitive and demanding than the Currie Cup, forcing Lions boss Swys de Bruin to concede the visitors will be favourites today.
“The fact they’ve been playing in the PRO14 definitely counts in their favour,” said De Bruin about the Cheetahs.
“It’s interesting how this year they can pick their best one week and not the next... but it might come back to bite them because in two weeks, should they qualify for the final, they’ll again have to change because the PRO14 is back in action then.”
Either way, the Lions are not too worried about winning and losing today, as they’ve been all season long. For De Bruin there are bigger things at stake, like producing quality rugby and growing the union’s depth for next year.
“It’s been a very up and down competition for us, because we started four weeks later than the other teams,” said De Bruin, making the point the Currie Cup got going while the Lions’ best were still involved in the Super Rugby playoffs.
“But there’s no pressure on the players to have to win... that wouldn’t be fair on them. I just want us to keep playing and to inspire our fans. There’s a lot of excitement with the Boks back.”
With the Bulls and Pumas having played last night and the Sharks and WP kicking off at 3pm, the Lions and Cheetahs will know exactly what they need to do to still be playing rugby next week.
Teams For Ellis Park
Lions: Andries Coetzee, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Harold Vorster, Courtnall Skosan, Jaco van der Walt, Ross Cronjé, Kwagga Smith, Cyle Brink, Len Massyn, Marvin Orie, Andries Ferreira, Jacobie Adriaanse, Robbie Coetzee, Jacques van Rooyen (captain).
Bench: Malcolm Marx, Dylan Smith, Rhyno Herbst, Robert Kruger/Hacjivah Dayimani, Marco Jansen van Vuuren, Ashlon Davids, Sylvian Mahuza.
Cheetahs: Raymond Rhule, Rosko Specman, Nico Lee, William Small-Smith, Makazole Mapimpi, Ernst Stapelberg, Tian Meyer, Oupa Mohoje, Henco Venter, Paul Schoeman, Reniel Hugo, Justin Basson, Johan Coetzee, Torsten van Jaarsveld (captain), Charles Marais.
Bench: Jacques du Toit, Ox Nche, Rynier Bernardo, Junior Pokomela, Shaun Venter, Ali Mgijima, Luther Obi.
Kickoff: 5.15pm. Referee: Rasta Rashivenge.