JOHANNESBURG – The goal is clear: win to keep themselves two steps ahead of the chasing pack, but also to maintain their dominance over their fellow South African teams.
That’s what’s at stake for the Lions when they visit Newlands this weekend for the return clash with the Stormers.
The South African teams will all go on a month-long break after this weekend’s round of matches - to allow for Test matches to be played in the Southern Hemisphere - and a win for the Lions will give them a handy lead over the other teams in the SA Conference, with just a handful of games left to play when Super Rugby resumes after the June Test window.
Right now the Lions have 36 points after 13 games, while the Jaguares in second spot have 29, and they’re followed by the Sharks, with 28 points, after 12 games. In fourth spot are the Bulls with 24 points; the same number of points as the fifth-placed Stormers.
A loss in Cape Town for the Lions would allow either the Jaguares or Sharks to close the gap on the Joburg team to potentially just two points because either of them could pick up five log points this weekend as they clash in Buenos Aires on Saturday night.
And the task for the Lions in Cape Town this weekend has become a bit tougher following the Stormers’ shock defeat at the hands of the Sunwolves in Hong Kong at the weekend. Robbie Fleck and his men will be desperate to set the record straight and De Bruin knows this all too well.
“Look, the Sunwolves are a good team ... they took us all the way to the end and showed that against us, and they’ve now beaten two teams on the trot,” said De Bruin after his side had beaten the Brumbies this past weekend.
“It’s going to be a typical derby in Cape Town ... a real arm-wrestle.”
Indeed, it will be. And also at stake is, of course, the Lions’ quite-astonishing winning run against local teams in the Super Rugby competition. The last time the Lions have been beaten by a South African team was four years ago - by the Bulls in a 35-33 reverse at Loftus on May 2, 2015.
Since that day, the Lions have gone 20 matches unbeaten; their last win against a local side coming at the beginning of April when they hammered the Stormers 52-31 at Ellis Park.
The closest the Stormers have in fact come to beating the Lions in recent seasons was also four years ago when the teams played to a 19-19 draw at Newlands.
While the Lions are still without key hooker Malcolm Marx, they look set to welcome back into their team this week centres Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe, who sat out last weekend’s game against the Brumbies with the flu and a groin problem respectively.
Also, Ross Cronje, who returned to the team from off the bench last weekend after a lengthy spell on the sidelines, is expected to be back in the starting team this week.
The Lions will also hope to get their regular skipper, Warren Whiteley (knee), back in the mix this week, but there has been no news from the team whether the No 8 will be back or not.