Today’s Round 16 Super Rugby showdown at Ellis Park (5.15pm kick-off) should be a cracker.
A year ago, the Lions would have been heavy favourites to win, but after an indifferent campaign which has left them fighting to qualify for the quarter-finals, and the fact key man at the back, Elton Jantjies, is missing because of disciplinary matters, the Stormers may just be the team with the edge today.
But there are other reasons for this. Robbie Fleck’s side are flying high following their draw with the Crusaders and win against the Highlanders, while man-for-man they have a more in-form outfit.
The Lions, besides having a new general in charge in rookie Shaun Reynolds, haven’t hit their straps this season and just edged past the Waratahs and Highlanders, before going down to the Sharks in Durban last week.
They will, however, feel they did all the playing, and had it not been for two intercept tries scored by the Sharks, they’d have won the game. So, there will be more than enough confidence in the ranks.
Unfortunately for them though, they haven’t won against a South African team this season, having lost twice to the Sharks and once already against the Stormers and Bulls.
Besides the fact that they’ll miss Jantjies today, the Lions are again without Warren Whiteley, but then the Stormers are also missing some big names. Pieter-Steph du Toit and Siya Kolisi not being fit to play will be a boost for the Lions, but on the plus side for the visitors to Joburg is the fact Eben Etzebeth is back after missing out last week.
With two matches remaining for the teams after today’s match, a defeat could signal the end of the road. Both the Lions and Stormers have 30 points from 13 matches, which has them in positions four and five respectively in the SA Conference going into the weekend’s action. There’s a lot to play for this afternoon.
“We’re definitely still in the hunt for conference honours,” said Lions coach Swys de Bruin this week.
“But, we’re going to have to do our job, and get over these three hurdles ahead of us. We can only focus on what we can control, but the ball is in our court.”
The Lions’ final two games are against the Hurricanes (home) and Bulls (away).
Stormers boss Fleck said: “We want to keep building on our performances every week and this is another opportunity for us to show what we are capable of. There is no doubting the motivation within this group (ahead of the Lions game).”
The Stormers’ last two matches are against the Sunwolves (home) and Sharks (home).
Only six points separated the top-placed Jaguares and last placed Stormers ahead of this round of matches.
There was not much to choose between the Lions and Stormers when they met at Newlands in round two, with the home team controversially edging the visitors 19-17 at the death, so it’s all set up to be a thrilling, and hugely intriguing affair on the Highveld today.
Lions: Andries Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Shaun Reynolds, Ross Cronje, Kwagga Smith, Vincent Tshituka, Cyle Brink, Marvin Orie, Stephan Lewies, Carlu Sadie, Malcolm Marx (capt), Dylan Smith
Replacements: Jan-Henning Campher, Sti Sithole, Johannes Jonker, Reinhard Nothnagel, Marnus Schoeman, Hacjivah Dayimani, Nic Groom, Tyrone Green
Stormers: Damian Willemse, Seabelo Senatla, JJ Engelbrecht, Damian de Allende, Dillyn Leyds, Josh Stander, Herschel Jantjies, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Johan du Toit, Jaco Coetzee, Cobus Wiese, Eben Etzebeth, Wilco Louw, Scarra Ntubeni, Steven Kitshoff (capt)
Replacements: Chad Solomon, Corne Fourie, Frans Malherbe, Ernst van Rhyn, Marno Redelinghuys, Justin Phillips, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Dan Kriel@jacq_west