JOHANNESBURG - They may stand little to no chance of becoming the first team to beat the Lions at Ellis Park since late April 2016, but the Lions are still taking the Kings very, very seriously.
The men from Port Elizabeth are not the whipping boys of last season, ensuring the Lions will be on their guard when Deon Davids and his men visit on Sunday.
Before last weekend when the Kings came up just short against the Brumbies, they had registered three wins on the trot, against the Waratahs (away), Rebels and Sharks, they also beat the Sunwolves away early on, pushed the Sharks close in Durban the first time they met and nearly beat the Western Force away.
It is the last game for both teams before the month-long international break and both will hope to “go out” on a high, before the competition resumes for South African teams on 30 June.
The Lions haven’t been beaten in Super Rugby at Ellis Park since going down to the Hurricanes on April 30 last season; that is 11 games - six in 2016 and five this year - where they have come out on top.
Johan Ackermann’s men go into the match on the back of a 14-point haul in Australia and a 51-14 win against the Bulls, so confidence is high, but the coach will do well to warn his players against complacency on Sunday.
“The Kings are going to be tough. They’ve beaten some top sides this year and they’re playing with tremendous confidence and self-belief,” he said ahead of starting preparations for the match on Monday.
“The Kings have been right up there, so it’s going to be a big challenge. We’re going to have to make sure we’re in the right frame of mind.”
Complicating matters somewhat this week is the fact the match is being played on Sunday.
Not only will the Lions only start their weekly programme on Tuesday instead of a Monday, but many of the players will not have played on a Sunday before.
It certainly is something new for SA Super Rugby teams.
“It’s not ideal,” said Ackermann.
“The reality is we’re in an era of professional sport and if the competition dictates that we play on a Sunday then we will do so. I don’t believe we’re going to be judged on playing a rugby match on one Sunday.”
After Saturday’s exploits at Ellis Park, where they ran in seven tries against the Bulls to register their 11th win in 12 matches this season, the Lions players were given two days off to fully recover before getting together again.
Ackermann is expected to stick largely with the same team that did duty against the Bulls for the Kings match, but he may be asked by Springbok coach Allister Coetzee to rest a few players ahead of the June Test series against France, and could include flank Jaco Kriel, who has not played any rugby in four weeks because of a knee problem.
Meanwhile, the Kings will probably welcome back flank Chris Cloete this week after he missed the match against the Brumbies with concussion, while former skipper Schalk Ferreira, Malcolm Jaer, Ruaan Lerm and Masixole Banda could also come into the selection frame after returning from injury layoffs.