JOHANNESBURG - The Lions are fully aware they will have to produce their best performance of the season on Saturday if they’re to get the better of WP at Newlands in the second Currie Cup semi-final.
The famous Cape Town stadium hasn’t been kind to the Lions in recent times - even though the Super Rugby side did win there earlier this year - and coach Swys de Bruin knows a huge task awaits his men.
“They’re a great side, an established side and will come with their very best against us,” he said after the Lions had beaten the Cheetahs to qualify for a spot in the playoffs at the weekend. “They’re always hugely competitive and they’ll be a different beast to the one we faced just over a week ago.”
Indeed, two Sundays ago, the Lions edged the men from the Cape 29-20 to stay in the hunt for the semi-finals places. They scored four tries to WP's two, but the reality is the Lions only got the better of their opponents late in the game.
The visitors enjoyed a 20-10 lead with just over a quarter of the game to go, but three quick tries by the Lions ensured a dramatic, come-from-behind win for De Bruin’s men.
But if that was a scare for the Lions, the match at Newlands earlier in the campaign, in round one, will serve as a big wakeup call. On that occasion, WP ran in six tries to coast home 39-3 against the Joburgers.
Even so, WP getting the better of the Sharks last weekend shocked De Bruin as much as it did everyone else in the country.
“How did they manage to beat the Sharks so easily? I’d love to watch that game and see what happened,” De Bruin wanted to know on Saturday night. At that stage he hadn’t been able to see what had happened because he was preparing his Lions for the Cheetahs match, but he would have certainly watched things unfold later on.
Both teams will be on a high after the weekend’s action, but WP will certainly be the favourites to win through to the final. De Bruin’s team, though, will have nothing to lose. The Lions are of the opinion they started “late” in the Currie Cup because the first XV were still playing Super Rugby in August, and were on the back foot from the off, while no less than 12 first choice Super Rugby players, including several Springboks and men who’re currently playing in Japan and others who are injured, were missing.
The good news for the Lions though is they have no serious injuries at the moment and will be able to call on all five of their available Boks this week.
Meanwhile, the Lions have “denied” that Blue Bulls No 9 Rudy Paige is on his way to the Joburg team. Reports at the weekend linked the Bok scrumhalf to the Lions, as a replacement for the departed Faf de Klerk, but Lions CEO Rudolf Straeuli said: “(Paige) has received no contract offer from me. Everything that has been written about this matter is pure speculation.”
The Lions’ contracted No 9s include Bok first choice Ross Cronje, Dillon Smit and the very talented Marco Jansen van Vuuren, who in many circles is regarded as a Joost van der Westhuizen-type of player with huge potential.