Cape Town — The last time the Lions played two home games in a row was in April, but whether they are playing in Johannesburg or away, it’s been a tough old Currie Cup.
They have won just five out of 13 games and are languishing in seventh position on the log on 31 points.
Remarkably, they still have an outside chance of reaching the semi-finals, but they first have to fulfil their side of the bargain by producing a bonus-point win over the Griffons in Welkom on Friday afternoon (3pm kick-off).
That would take them to 36, and then points difference may come into the equation too, so the Lions will have to score as many tries as possible if they want to have any chance of reaching the last four.
For that to even happen, though, they would need these results to go their way this weekend: Western Province to lose to the Sharks in Cape Town, Griquas to lose to the Pumas in Kimberley — preferably without any bonus points — and the Blue Bulls to lose to the Cheetahs in Pretoria, without getting any bonus points as well.
That would see the Sharks top the log, followed by the Cheetahs, Pumas and Lions — a long shot, but not totally impossible.
The Johannesburg outfit have been inconsistent this season, and continued that trend in recent weeks by losing to the Sharks last Saturday, beating WP the previous week and going down to the Bulls at Ellis Park before that.
Four of their last five matches have been away, so travelling down the N1 to Welkom won’t be that daunting. But the Griffons won’t be pushovers at home, where their sole victory came against the Bulls.
“It’s our fourth game in a row away, so we’re pretty used to being on the road. That having been said, the big focus is to finish on a high, and as we said earlier in the week, finish in the highest-possible place,” Lions coach Mziwakhe Nkosi said on Thursday.
“Although mathematically, there are a whole variety of permutations that can see us in a semi-final, but we can’t control that.
“The biggest focus is to finish positively, and then whichever way the tables fall, we’re just going to make sure that we can control what we can.
“We are excited by the team that we have put out — a couple of guys getting an opportunity to showcase what they have for the franchise going forward.
“We are looking forward to a positive result, and more importantly, a positive performance.”
One of the new faces with a point to prove will be centre Rynhardt Jonker, who has been impressive off the bench for most of the season.
The 23-year-old midfielder — who is the son of experienced TMO Marius Jonker — has good pace and an ability to unlock defences with his speed and playmaking skills.
He will wear the No 12 jersey, and will have two attacking talents in Gianni Lombard and Manuel Rass either side of him.
Add in livewire scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba, and Jonker should get plenty of opportunities to state his case for more game time in the URC next season.
Teams For Welkom
Griffons: 15 Duan Pretorius (captain) 14 Domenic Smit 13 Carel-Jan Coetzee 12 Jandré de Beer 11 Keanu Vers 10 Robbie Petzer 9 Jaywinn Juries 8 Soso Xakalashe 7 Thomas Ongera 6 Jean Pretorius 5 Rian Olivier 4 Wikus Nieuwenhuis 3 Buhle Nojekwa 2 HP van Schoor 1 Xolani Jacobs.
Bench: 16 Dandré Delport 17 Stephan de Jager 18 Hillary Mwanjilwa 19 Michael Benade 20 Ludio Williams 21 Thato Mavundla 22 Marquit September 23 Duren Hoffman.
Lions: 15 Quan Horn 14 Boldwin Hansen 13 Manuel Rass 12 Rynhardt Jonker 11 Edwill van der Merwe 10 Gianni Lombard 9 Sanele Nohamba 8 Francke Horn 7 Emmanuel Tshituka 6 JC Pretorius 5 Darrien Landsberg 4 Ruben Schoeman 3 Ruan Dreyer 2 Jaco Visagie (captain) 1 Rhynardt Rijnsburger.
Bench: 16 PJ Botha 17 Morgan Naudé 18 Asenathi Ntlabakanye 19 Raynard Roets 20 Travis Gordon 21 Morné van den Berg 22 Tyler Bocks 23 Stean Pienaar.