JOHANNESBURG – After being given a big fright by the Jaguares last weekend, expect the Lions to be back to normal when they run out against the Western Force in Perth on Saturday.
In what was arguably their worst performance this season – except for that defeat in Buenos Aires with a weakened side – the Lions had to rely on the trusty left boot of Elton Jantjies to get them across the line, but normal service should be restored against one of the poorest sides in the competition today.
And the man to lead the way should be Jantjies, a player who has operated under the radar this season, but been extremely productive in everything he has done.
Unlike last season where Jantjies and his halfback partner Faf de Klerk stole the headlines almost each week, the duo have not quite had as many fans talking about them in 2017.
De Klerk actually has had to sit back and watch as Ross Cronje has won more credits from the critics, while Jantjies has been the steady operator at 10 but without the flash. He’s hardly put a foot wrong though and has played with plenty of maturity.
De Klerk though gets a chance on Saturday to show he mustn’t be forgotten just yet – with Cronje missing out because of injury, while Jantjies’ boot and general play on this tour of Australia will go a long way in answering whether the flyhalf has learned from the problems he experienced in Springbok colours last year.
Jantjies was a shadow of his Super Rugby player when wearing the green and gold, with many suggesting he is simply not good enough to play Test rugby, but three good showings on tour – against the Force on Saturday, the Rebels next week and the Brumbies in the Lions’ last match on tour – will force Allister Coetzee to still look his way in June when France are in South Africa.
But it is not only the Lions halfbacks who’ll be key on tour but every member of the squad, who’ll be under pressure to ensure three strong performances that turn into victories and points bagged.
The three Australian opponents are hardly sides to be afraid of, but as Lions boss Johan Ackermann has pointed out, no one in Super Rugby can be taken lightly – remember what the Kings did to the Waratahs last week? – and he’s expecting a big step up from his team on Saturday.
“The Force are one of the teams who’re on the Super Rugby chopping block and they’ve got a big campaign on the go here in Perth to fill up the stadium so they’re going to want to make a big statement,” said Ackermann.
“That’s what we’re up against. We know what it’s like to play at home with a full stadium behind you and they’re going to have that this weekend. It’s not going to be easy for us ... they’re playing for their survival.
“We’re going to have to be spot on in all departments to have a chance and then we must take the chances when they’re there. It’s going to have to be a much better performance than we delivered last week... if it’s not, they’ll beat us. It’s that simple. There are no weak teams in Super Rugby.”
Indeed. The Lions will want to get the points in the bag on Friday, and they shouldn’t have too many problems achieving that if they perform according to their own high standards, move on and focus on the next assignment.
* Meanwhile, in Bloemfontein on Saturday afternoon, the unbeaten Crusaders are heavy favourites to register their ninth win in a row and remain the only unbeaten side when they come up against the Cheetahs.
The multiple champions from Christchurch are coming off a big win against the Stormers, while the Cheetahs have lost three in a row, against the Bulls last week and before that against the Chiefs and Stormers.
The Cheetahs have only won twice in eight outings and will have to produce a near superhuman effort if they’re to get their third win. Kickoff is at 5.15pm.
Teams For Perth
Lions: Andries Coetzee, Sylvian Mahuza, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley, Ruan Ackermann, Kwagga Smith, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: Robbie Coetzee, Corne Fourie, Johannes Jonker, Lourens Erasmus, Cyle Brink, Dillon Smit, Jacques Nel, Anthony Volmink
Force: Marcel Brache, James Verity-Amm, Curtis Rona, Bill Meakes, Alex Newsome, Luke Burton, Ian Prior, Isi Naisarani, Matt Hodgson (capt), Brynard Stander, Ross Haylett-Petty, Lewis Carmichael, Tetera Faulkner, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Pek Cowan.
Replacements: Heath Tessmann, Ben Daley, Shambeckler Vui, Onehunga Havilli, Richard Hardwick, Mitch Short, Jono Lance, Peter Grant
Referee: Mike Fraser