The Lions haven’t lost to a South African Super Rugby team in 19 outings and they plan to extend that record to 20 when they host the Stormers at Ellis Park today (5.15pm kick-off).
The last time the Lions were beaten by a local side was on May 2, 2015 when they went down 35-33 to the Bulls at Loftus; the closest other result being a 19-19 draw with the Stormers at Newlands.
Earlier this season the Lions got the better of the Sharks and the Bulls and now it’s the turn of the Capetonians to try end that successful run. But while Robbie Fleck’s men have the potential to upset their hosts, they can expect a fired up Lions outfit, who’ve lost three of their last four matches, and are desperate to return to winning ways before heading overseas next week for a four-match tour.
“We need to go for maximum points against the Stormers,” said straight-talking coach Swys de Bruin this week. “Our record is now won four and lost three, but we’re at home this week and we can’t hide from the fact there is pressure on us. We need to win before we go on tour.”
Indeed. The Lions won’t want to head to Australasia with another defeat in their results column, and not with the Waratahs, Reds, Hurricanes and Highlanders waiting for them.
“This is a vital game for us. We respect the Stormers immensely ... they’re a very good side, but we need to refocus and play the way we can and match our standards; it’s the only way we’re going to turn it around,” said De Bruin.
The Stormers, too, are in dire need of a win after crashing to the Bulls last weekend, and their record so far, as the competition nears its halfway point, is played seven – like the Lions – and won three. Fleck’s men, though, have already toured so have a number of home games coming up where they can get back into the race for the play-off spots, but they’ll want to do well against their fellow countrymen, too - especially away from Newlands.
Both outfits will seek a strong set-phase foundation today and the battle at scrum and line-out time promises to be exciting and crucial at the same time. Ruan Dreyer’s head-to-head with Steven Kitshoff is a mini Springbok trial for both men, while the performance of Pieter-Steph du Toit on the flank for the Stormers will go a long way in determining who comes out on top.
It’s interesting that the Lions have this week opted to use their specialist No 5 lock Franco Mostert in the second row rather than also on the flank, as they’ve done on occasions this year.
Then there’s the showdown of the two highly-rated No 10s, Elton Jantjies and Damian Willemse; both of whom are sure to have a major say in how their teams attack, while outside them Harold Vorster will want to prove he is the better on-form and all-round performer than Damian de Allende, who will be involved in a Bok alignment camp next week, probably at the expense of the Lions No 12. There’s class and skill in both sides, and both have the potential to turn on the style, with the winner most likely the side that defends best and can go for the full 80-odd minutes. Will it be 20 on the trot for the home team, or will the Stormers register a famous away win?
Lions: Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Madosh Tambwe, Elton Jantjies, Dillon Smit, Hacjivah Dayimani, Cyle Brink, Kwagga Smith, Franco Mostert (capt), Marvin Orie, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Dylan Smith
Replacements: Corné Fourie, Jacques van Rooyen, Johannes Jonker, Lourens Erasmus, Marnus Schoeman, Marco Jansen van Vuren, Howard Mnisi, Sylvian Mahuza
Stormers: SP Marais, Dillyn Leyds, EW Viljoen, Damian de Allende, Raymond Rhule, Damian Willemse, Jano Vermaak, Nizaam Carr, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi (capt), Chris van Zyl, Jan de Klerk, Wilco Louw, Ramone Samuels, Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: Scarr Ntubeni, JC Janse van Rensburg, Carlu Sadie, Kobus van Dyk, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Jaco Coetzee, Paul de Wet, Craig Barry
Referee: Jaco Peyper