Huge favour from Lions, but now more Covid-19 tests await Bulls
CAPE TOWN - A short while after Jaco Peyper had blown the final whistle at Ellis Park to hand the Lions a 27-12 win over the Sharks, a message from the Bulls camp arrived on WhatsApp: “Lions did us a huge favour tonight!”
Indeed they did. The Joburg side’s emphatic triumph over a Sharks outfit affected by Covid-19 and injury-related withdrawals – especially in their tight five – meant that Ivan van Rooyen’s team are now suddenly chasing the Bulls (35 points) on the Currie Cup log.
The Lions (29) trail by six points, and while the Sharks (28) have a game in hand on both Gauteng sides, they face a tough run-in to the play-offs as they have to face the Cheetahs and Western Province away (and also host Griquas in between).
But Jake White and his squad now don’t need to worry about the rest. Even if the Sharks win their game in hand with a bonus point, they would still be two short of the Bulls.
The Lions’ victory came at just the right time for the Pretoria side, who went from looking unbeatable after dispatching the Cheetahs 40-13 on December 5 to losing to the Sharks 32-29, having a number of players and management contract Covid-19 and then having their clash against Griquas cancelled because of those positive cases.
Captain Duane Vermeulen is also on a break that is likely to see him return only in time for the last league match against the Pumas in Mbombela on January 8.
So, White would’ve been hoping on some good news for a change, and it came in the shape of an impressive Lions side that dominated the collisions and set-pieces against the depleted Sharks pack.
But now the Bulls will hope to welcome them at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday (7pm kickoff). Hope, because they are scheduled to undergo another round of Covid-19 testing today in order to be cleared to play at the weekend.
Once those results are made available, probably only by tomorrow, White will have to come up with a plan and a team that can knock over the in-form Lions. Apart from Vermeulen’s expected absence, the Bulls coach will have to consider whether he picks a new-look side where the usual reserves and squad members start, or stick with the first-choice line-up that have done the business up to the Sharks defeat.
Some stalwarts such as Trevor Nyakane, Marco van Staden, Cornal Hendricks, Stedman Gans and David Kriel could do with a break, but considering the powerful Lions scrum, Nyakane is likely to soldier on for at least one more week.
Perhaps White should go all out and pick his best available team, as the Bulls did have a breather this past weekend and do have a bye after the Lions game, and then finish off their round-robin stage against the Pumas away.
If they win at Loftus on Saturday, top spot and home advantage in the semi-finals and possible final would be all but secured.