The men from Port Elizabeth have produced their best rugby in the past month, having registered wins against the Sharks, Rebels and Waratahs, and nearly the Brumbies, and the Lions know they’re in for a mighty tussle at Ellis Park today (2.30pm kickoff).
The Kings are one of the sides facing the chop from Super Rugby next year, but they have used their probable demise as a motivating factor in recent weeks, which makes them a hard team to face.
“They have pushed every team they’ve come up against and recorded some good victories in the last few weeks, so we respect them big-time,” said Ackermann ahead of the match.
“They won’t lack for motivation, that’s for sure. It’s another big platform for them to showcase what they can do, for their players to make a name for themselves. Just look at Chris Cloete, Lionel Cronjé, Makazole Mapimpi... they want to play at the highest level.”
Ackermann compared the current Kings group to the one he got together in 2013/14 when the Lions returned from being relegated from Super Rugby to play again in 2014.
“They’re very similar to where we were at one stage,” said Ackermann.
“They, like us, have had to bring in players from all over the country and mould them into a team. All of my players were hungry to succeed then, like the Kings players are hungry to do well now.
"No one gave us a chance then, and few people have given the Kings a chance... but the more you play together, the more you grow, and that’s why we won’t take them lightly.”
Ackermann added there was confidence and self-belief in the Kings players, while Lions captain Warren Whiteley said he expected them to step up at Ellis Park.
“They’re a real team, a tight unit, and you can see how they’ve grown closer over the past few weeks,” said Whiteley.
“The hardest team to play against is a team where the players play for each other, and that’s the Kings at the moment. It’s what makes them so dangerous. That is why we respect them so much.”
The Lions though will start as heavy favourites on their home patch, especially as Ackermann has picked virtually his strongest team for the match. Only Ross Cronjé, who will attend his brother Guy’s wedding today, won’t play against the Kings.
Also, flank Jaco Kriel is back in the mix after five weeks, and he’ll add some flair and power from the bench.
The Kings, sadly, will be without their star flyhalf Lionel Cronjé, who has an injured jaw, but in Chris Cloete and Malcolm Jaer, they have two players back in the side who’ll keep the Lions busy throughout the encounter.
Ackermann’s men are hunting a 12th win in 13 matches, while the Kings are after their fifth in 12.
Teams For Ellis Park
Lions: Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (captain), Ruan Ackermann, Kwagga Smith, Franco Mostert, Andries Coetzee, Ruan Dreyer, Robbie Coetzee, Jacques van Rooyen.
Bench: Malcolm Marx, Corné Fourie, Johannes Jonker, Lourens Erasmus, Jaco Kriel, Dillon Smit, Jacques Nel, Anthony Volmink/Sylvian Mahuza.
Kings: Malcolm Jaer, Alshaun Bock, Berton Klaasen, Luzuko Vulindlu, Makazole Mapimpi, Pieter-Steyn de Wet, Louis Schreuder, Tyler Paul, Stefan Willemse, Chris Cloete, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Irné Herbst, Ross Geldenhuys (captain), Martin Bezuidenhout, Schalk van der Merwe.
Bench: Kurt Haupt, Dayan van der Westhuizen, Mzamo Majola, Lubabalo Mtyanda, Thembelani Bholi, Stefan Ungerer, Ntabeni Dukisa, Stokkies Hanekom.