JOHANNESBURG – Things could not be better for coach Johan Ackermann and his Lions.

Already well in charge of their Super Rugby conference, they are in something of a dream state in Australia and well on their way to featuring in the play-offs again this year.

Not only did Ackermann’s men get past a stubborn Western Force side in their first tour game on Saturday, with a bonus point to boot, but they are injury-free ahead of their second game on Saturday , against the Melbourne Rebels, a side who must be wishing their chop from Super Rugby could happen right now.

“We’re grateful to have got through a tough game on Saturday with just bumps and bruises and can now focus on our next game,” said Ackermann ahead of the Melbourne clash.

“We made history by beating the Force. We hadn’t won in Perth before, so we’re happy. And say what you want, it remains a tour game; it remains a match on the road.”

And how the Lions must be pumping themselves up for the Rebels match – a game where they will again be expected to pick up the five points on offer, as was the case last week.

The Rebels have their backs to the wall ... and the match hasn’t even started.

For one thing, the Lions have only had to fly to Melbourne in the past few days, while their opponents have had to go from Port Elizabeth (where they played against the Kings) to Johannesburg, to Sydney and then on to Melbourne.

Ackermann’s men will be well-rested, injury-free, adapted to the time changes, but the Rebels – after two weeks in South Africa – may be a little out of it in the coming days.

And, on top of that, they have to process the fact they lost 44-3 to the Kings at the weekend.

But it’s not only that result that will make life difficult for them in the coming days.

Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

Like the Western Force they, too, are fighting for their survival in the competition and the players’ morale is seemingly at an all-time low, knowing their careers and futures in rugby in Melbourne are on the line, while they’ll take no confidence whatsoever into the match.

The Rebels have copped a few big hidings already this year, some of them at home; like the 18-56 defeat to the Blues in Melbourne, the 71-6 defeat away to the Hurricanes and the 51-12 loss to the Highlanders, also away.

They’ve won just once in eight matches, have scored a paltry 106 points in total in those games, conceded 307 and scored only nine tries and let in a whopping 41.

Ackermann said last week the first and third matches on this tour would be the most difficult – because many of his players are touring for the first time and then in week three players are often already thinking of the trip back home – meaning his team should be in prime condition to produce their best effort this week.

To freshen things up a little more, it would come as no surprise if Ackermann made a few changes to his team as well, like at hooker, loose forward and even scrumhalf and allow the likes of Malcolm Marx, Ruan Ackermann and Faf de Klerk to come off the bench.

The Lions have worked themselves into an excellent position; now they simply need to make it count.


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The Star

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