Lions players celebrate during their victory over the Reds at Ellis Park in early March. Photo: Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
JOHANNESBURG - It's been 12 games and nearly a year since the Lions were beaten at home. That's the magnitude of the task awaiting the Sharks when they visit Ellis Park on Saturday.

Johan Ackermann’s men will start as heavy favourites when the teams meet in a round six Super Rugby tie.

They have turned their home ground into a fortress in the last 12 months, winning no less than eight Super Rugby matches in a row, going back to April last year, but also four Currie Cup matches in that time.

The last time the Lions lost at Ellis Park was on April 30, against the Hurricanes, a surprising 50-17 defeat, the same team Ackermann’s men would lose to in the final a few months later, but on that occasion the match was in Wellington.

Since that day, the Lions registered high-scoring wins against the Blues (43 points and seven tries), Jaguares (52 and eight tries), Sharks (37 and two tries), Kings (57 and eight tries), Crusaders (42 and five tries) and Highlanders (42 and five tries) last season, and this year against the Waratahs (55 and eight tries) and Reds (44 and seven tries).

It has been a dominant display at home by Ackermann’s men.

Add to the above-mentioned victories, the four Currie Cup home wins in the latter stages of last year against the Pumas (68 points and 10 tries), the Cavaliers (60 points and nine tries), Western Province (58 points and eight tries) and the Sharks (28 points and three tries), and you realise that coming to Ellis Park and winning doesn't happen easily.

In their last eight home Super Rugby games the Lions have scored a whopping 53 tries.

The only positive the Sharks, under new coach Robert du Preez, will take from the above record is that it has been them - and not the highly-fancied Crusaders or Highlanders - who have performed best in the last 12 months at Ellis Park.

In last year's Super Rugby clash they conceded only 37 points - the best of anyone who visited the ground since April 30, while in the Currie Cup clash between the teams, albeit very different teams, they allowed the Lions to score only 28 points and three tries.

What these statistics tell us is that while the Lions are a free-scoring team at home, they have found the going difficult against the Sharks, who put a high premium on defence.

But while home-ground advantage will certainly prove an ally for the Lions, there's not all that much separating them and the Sharks in terms of how they've performed this season, which should make for another fascinating clash between the two teams on Saturday.

Both teams have played five matches this season, won four and lost one, with the Lions having scored 28 tries to the Sharks’ 13.

Defensively, Ackermann’s men have let in 15 and the Sharks 14, proof that the Joburg team are the more attacking of the sides, but the Sharks are more stingy when it comes to defence.

A look at the key statistics (as shown here) shows that there's not much to choose between the teams ahead of Saturday's match (5.15pm kickoff), but then that was also the case last season.

And talk about a match that pits some of the biggest and brightest young talents against each other - think Elton Jantjies against Curwin Bosch, Michael Tambwe against Lwazi Mvovo, Ruan Ackermann against Jean-Luc du Preez and Malcolm Marx against Chiliboy Ralepelle ... we're in for a cracker of a game at Ellis Park.

The Star