The Lions blew a comfortable lead last weekend to go down to the men from Auckland, but the Sunwolves present them with an opportunity to hit back immediately. The visitors have yet to win in three matches this season and were hammered 94-7 by the Lions a year ago.
But, despite their dire record in the competition, the Lions know they cannot take them lightly, especially as the Sunwolves have several players in their ranks who learned their trade in Tonga, New Zealand and South Africa and who’ll want to make a big statement against the runners-up from 2016 and 2017.
“We’re not underestimating them at all,” insisted Lions boss Swys de Bruin. “They’ll bring it ... they’re the kind of side who can do something special when you least expect it. They play with plenty of character, they love carrying the ball and they never stop playing.”
The visitors certainly have plenty of staying power, but whether that will be enough to stay in touch with the Lions is another matter. The Lions will be eager to score plenty of tries and put the Blues result well and truly behind them.
Mostert, who’ll lead the side in place of the injured Warren Whiteley, said he was excited about the opportunity.
“It’s a big privilege to be the captain, but the reality is we do things together here,” he said. “The leadership group which includes Malcolm (Marx), Elton (Jantjies), Andries (Coetzee), Ross (Cronje) and Lionel (Mapoe) make decisions jointly so it’s easy slotting in.”
With several first choice players being rested - like Jacques van Rooyen, Ruan Dreyer, Andries Ferreira, Cyle Brink - and Whiteley missing through injury, the Lions may take some time today to settle and get into their groove. But, the opportunity afforded the likes of 20-year-old Len Massyn, at No8, and Lourens Erasmus at lock may also just spark the Lions again. It’ll also be interesting to see how the bulky Rohan Janse van Rensburg performs on the wing, with Harold Vorster joining Mapoe in the midfield.
“In the modern game if you can play 13, you can play 14,” said De Bruin of the switch for Janse van Rensburg. “If you’re a footballer you can slot in anywhere.”
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Lourens Erasmus, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith
Reserves: Robbie Coetzee, Sti Sithole, Johannes Jonker, Robert Kruger, Marnus Schoeman, Marco Janse van Vuren, Howard Mnisi, Shaun Reynolds
Sunwolves: 15 Kotaro Matsushima,14 Lomano Lemeki, 13 William Tupou, 12 Michael Little, 11 Hosea Saumaki, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Yutaka Nagare,
8 Michael Leitch, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 5 Wimpie van der Walt, 4 Kazuki Himeno, 3 Koo Ji-won, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Craig Millar
Reserves: Atshushi Sakate, Shintaro Ishihara, Hencus van Wyk, Grant Hattingh, Willie Britz, Keisuke Uchida, Ryoto Nakamura, Ryuji Noguchi