JOHANNESBURG – Will it be fourth time lucky for the Sharks this season, or will the new-look Lions maintain their stranglehold on the men from Durban?
The Lions, albeit in Super Rugby, go into today’s Currie Cup encounter at Ellis Park (7.30pm) having won all three of the teams’ previous meetings this season – twice in Joburg and once in Durban.
They were all close affairs that left Sharks boss Robert du Preez irritated and angry, but he will feel his team have a great chance to get one over the Lions today.
Not only are the hosts under new management with Swys de Bruin now steering the ship, and Victor Matfield and Joey Mongalo having joined the squad recently as new forwards and defence coaches respectively, but there are also several new faces in the Lions’ match day squad.
Up front, Robert Kruger and Marvin Orie make up a new second row, while the loose-trio consists of former Sharks man, Ryan Kankowski, Fabian Booysen and Cyle Brink.
The whole front row has Super Rugby experience from this season, but Johannes Jonker, Robbie Coetzee and Corne Fourie got very little game-time overall.
And while there are familiar faces at the back, only Sylvian Mahuza, Jacques Nel and Rohan Janse van Rensburg featured regularly in Super Rugby. Madosh Tambwe, though, shone on the wing before Ruan Combrinck returned from injury.
What we do know is that they will continue to play an expansive, attack-from-all-parts game; that much has been promised by De Bruin, who took over the reins of the team this week.
The Lions will be desperate for a good showing after winning only one of their first three games, but it must be noted they were far from being at full strength as Super Rugby was still on the go.
The Sharks, though, have performed well up to now and go into today’s match on the back of a strong showing against the Bulls at Loftus on Wednesday evening.
Du Preez’s men have won three out of four and sit second on the seven-team points table, just behind the unbeaten Cheetahs.
And with several Super Rugby stars in the mix today, and momentum behind them, they’ll certainly fancy their chances of picking up a win at Ellis Park.
Ross Geldenhuys, Franco Marais and Thomas du Toit form a powerful front row, while in lock Ruan Botha, flankers Keegan Daniel and Jacques Vermeulen and No8 Tera Mtembu the visitors have more than enough firepower to test the Lions back-row.
And there is no doubt that among the backs, Sibusiso Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am and Garth April are among the form men in the competition right now. Am especially will be keen to show that he should have been called up to the Springbok squad, but then opposite him, Janse van Rensburg will feel the same.
And then, to add a little more spice to what should be another fiery clash between the teams, former Lions hooker Akker van der Merwe, will play off the bench for the Sharks – and he’ll want to make a statement.
It promises to be a fascinating encounter between two teams that know each other fairly well, but who are also much changed since they last met, just three weeks ago.