The Lions celebrate a try during last week's win over the Jaguares at the Ellis Park. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG - The Lions are hot favourites to pick up the points when they kick off their Australian tour with a match against the Western Force on Saturday, but Johan Ackermann will do well to warn his team against complacency and underestimating the men from Perth.

Not only will the home team feel the Lions are there for the taking after their struggles against the Jaguares last Friday, but the Force are fighting for their lives in Super Rugby, and on top of that, they’ll go into the match after pushing New Zealand’s Chiefs close last weekend.

Their coach, South Africa-born Dave Wessels, has also seemingly had enough with his team’s close calls, but not getting over the line, and he’ll certainly fire them up before they take on South Africa’s strongest team and last year’s runners up.

“We’ve got to stop being the club that always is the unlucky losers and are happy to lose, particularly when we are losing in the same way,” Wessels told The West Australian.

“I’m not in the mood to be sitting here feeling sorry for ourselves,” he added after his team almost shocked the Chiefs last weekend, but ultimately lost 16-7.

“What we’ll have to do is flush this out pretty quickly because we can’t dwell on it too long. If you are not prepared to have tough conversations with each other in the next couple of days then I’ll be sitting here saying exactly the same thing which won’t be acceptable.

“We’ve got to learn lessons and we’ve got to be pretty honest with ourselves. We have to get better at closing out tight games. That’s what it takes to be consistent in Super Rugby.”

The Force, with only two wins from seven games, don’t look like they’ll have enough firepower to trouble the Lions, especially with several key players on the injured list, but they haven’t been an embarrassment this season, pushing several teams fairly close.

Besides beating the Kings (46-41) and Reds (26-19), they have lost narrowly to the Waratahs (13-19), the Brumbies (17-25), the Blues (15-24) and the Chiefs (7-16). The only team that has clobbered them are the Crusaders, who ran out 45-17 winners in Christchurch.

The Force are certainly not the whipping boys many believe them to be and they’ll be desperate to put in another good showing against the Lions as they look to stave off their axing from Super Rugby. A win against the touring Lions would go a long way to doing that.

But injuries to the likes of Dane Haylett-Petty, Luke Morahan, Adam Coleman, Richie Arnold and Ben McCalman could make an already tough assignment against Ackermann’s men that much more difficult.

The Lions, too, have their injury problems; the latest being Jaco Kriel who isn’t on tour because of a knee injury, while the likes of Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Howard Mnisi and Julian Redelinghuys are all sidelined. Kwagga Smith is expected to replace him in a team that should be back to full strength in the front row after Ackermann rested his first-choice props against the Jaguares.

That means Ruan Dreyer and Jacques van Rooyen are likely to be recalled to the starting team this week, in place of Johannes Jonker and Corné Fourie, while Faf de Klerk could also start again after playing off the bench in the last two matches.

Also, one of Anthony Volmink and Sylvian Mahuza are the favourites to fill the No 14 jersey after regular Madosh Tambwe was left out of the touring squad to prepare with the SA U-20 team ahead of the Junior World Championships in a few weeks’ time.

Ackermann will name his line-up on Thursday. Saturday’s match kicks off at 1.55pm.

The Star

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