JOHANNESBURG – The Lions went into their bye week leading the South African Conference and after the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Jaguares all played at the weekend, Swys de Bruin’s team are still the pace-setters today.
The Bulls edging the Sharks in Durban, combined with the Stormers and Jaguares losing, meant De Bruin’s team’s position atop the local conference remained intact. The three-time Super Rugby runners-up have 18 points from their four wins (from six matches), and they’re followed by the Bulls (17, four wins), Sharks (16, three wins), Stormers (14, three wins) and Jaguares (10, two wins).
And as the Lions prepare to re-enter the competition this week they’ll do so in the knowledge that despite not hitting their best form yet in 2019 they are still, arguably, the strongest team in South Africa. They have also scored the most points (174) and most tries (25) in their conference.
Only the defending champions, the Crusaders, have scored more tries than De Bruins team - 29.
Worryingly for De Bruin and Co though, the Lions have leaked several more tries than they would have liked - 18, the same number the Jaguares have let in so far. The Sharks (nine) and Bulls and Stormers (both 16) all have better defensive records at this stage.
Robert du Preez’s team, in fact, have, by far, the best record in this department across all conferences.
The Lions though, despite currently leading the way, face arguably their toughest month in the competition during April.
Not only are they up against that difficult-to-break-down Sharks side this Friday, at Ellis Park, they also go on tour of Australasia where they will be up against the Brumbies in Canberra, Chiefs in Hamilton and Crusaders in Christchurch.And De Bruin’s team will be without several key players for those matches, namely loose-head prop Dylan Smith, loose-forwards Kwagga Smith and Vincent Tshituka and possibly also captain Warren Whiteley.
Both Smiths and Tshituka have long-term injuries and will only return once the team are back from their tour, while Whiteley, who has been out of action with a chest injury since the second round of action, is only expected back on the field in the second week of the tour. The Lions though may opt to only pick him again when the team are back in South Africa.
The bit of good news is that Cyle Brink, who has been out of action since August last year, is expected to return to the side this week, for the Sharks match, in what would be a major boost for the Lions, who’ve been hit hard in the loose-forward department.
De Bruin is expected to name his side for Friday’s match tomorrow.@jacq_west