Lions keep their eyes on the prize
With two rounds remaining the runaway log leaders, the Lions, have one foot and half of the other in a semi-final set to be played at Ellis Park, but don’t for one minute think they’ll take things easy in the next fortnight.
Further wins against Western Province today and Griquas next weekend – both on home turf – will give the Lions a 10 out of 10 record in the regular Currie Cup season and guarantee them a place at Ellis Park in the final should they progress that far.
It’s this little bonus the team will be playing for in the coming weeks, but from an individual point of view, places in the matchday squad for the play-offs will also be highly sought-after.
Coach Johan Ackermann has made it clear his side still have goals to achieve, even though they go into this weekend’s action with a nine-point lead atop the standings.
Only an intervention of outer wordly proportions will now prevent the Lions from finishing top – they’d have to fail to pick up any points in their two remaining games, and that’s not likely, and the Bulls and Western Province (on 29 points each) would have to collect 10 points each to go past the Joburg team.
“We’ve probably got a home semi-final already, but the players and the team management both believe the season is not done yet,” said Ackermann this week.
“We’ve got two games left before the play-offs and only once we’re there will we start talking about semi-finals and the final. Right now all that matters is the match ahead of us and for the players there are positions to play for.
“When the play-offs hit I’ll only pick the best 22; there will be no rotation of players then so everyone here will be wanting to get into the 22.
“That will surely keep all the players on their toes (against Western Province this weekend and Griquas next week).”
Ackermann, as he did in Super Rugby, has rotated his players on a regular basis throughout the Currie Cup and again today rookies Dylan Smith (prop) and Rohan Janse van Rensburg (centre) get a chance ahead of more experienced campaigners.
“We’ve really got a good culture here ... all the players are willing to work hard, even when they’re not in the team,” said Ackermann.
“While every player brings a different set of skills to the team, as a collective the side has continued to operate effectively. No matter who plays and who comes off the bench our rhythm has stayed the same. We’ve now just got to keep on working on it.”
Both the Lions and Western Province go into the game on a high, having picked up big wins last time out. Ackermann’s men ran in 10 tries to hammer the Cheetahs 73-31, while John Dobson’s Province beat the Pumas 50-19.
Lions skipper Jaco Kriel though says his side can still improve on last week’s impressive performance in Bloemfontein.
“We played some good rugby at times, but we also let them in too easily on a few occasions,” he said.
“What we’re looking to get right this week is to stay focused for the whole 80 minutes, to be switched on all the time and maintain the control we’re looking for in a game.”
l In today’s other match, the Bulls host the EP Kings at Loftus Versfled, while tomorrow the Pumas entertain the Cheetahs in Nelspruit and in Kimberley Griquas welcome the Sharks.
Lions: Andries Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Howard Mnisi, Anthony Volmink, Marnitz Boshoff, Ross Cronje, Warren Whiteley, Step de Wit, Jaco Kriel (capt), Franco Mostert, Lourens Erasmus, Julian Redelinghuys, Malcolm Marx, Dylan Smith. Replacements: Mark Pretorius, Ruan Dreyer, Fabian Booysen, Kwagga Smith, Jaco van der Walt, Stokkies Hanekom, Sampie Mastriet
WP: Cheslin Kolbe/Dillyn Leyds, Dillyn Leyds/Kobus van Wyk, Johnny Kotze, Juan de Jongh, Seabelo Senatla, Robert du Preez, Nic Groom, Nizaam Carr, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Chris Cloete, Ruan Botha, Jean Kleyn, Wilco Louw, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff. Replacements: Michael Willemse, Oli Kebble, Chris van Zyl, Jurie van Vuuren, Godlen Masimla, Kurt Coleman, Huw Jones
Today: Golden Lions v Western Province (Emirates Airline Park, 6pm); Blue Bulls v Eastern Province Kings (Loftus Versfeld, 7.10pm)
Tomorow: Pumas v Free State Cheetahs (Mbombela Stadium, 1.15pm); Griquas v Sharks (Griquas Park, Kimberley, 3pm) - The Star