JOHANNESBURG – Lions number four lock Stephan Lewies can’t wait for Saturday’s Super Rugby showdown with the Stormers and especially Springbok hard-man Eben Etzebeth.
The teams clash in a crucial round 16 match at Ellis Park with the winners' chances of featuring in the play-offs set to be significantly boosted.
After the weekend’s matches, only two rounds remain before the quarter-finals are contested.
As things stand, the Lions are fourth in the SA Conference with 30 points, while the Stormers are fifth, also with 30 points. Only six points separate the five teams in the conference.
The last time the Lions and Stormers clashed, in round two at Newlands, the home team scored a late try through replacement scrumhalf Hershel Jantjies to pip the visitors 19-17.
Lewies, who joined the Lions from the Sharks at the start of this season, has formed a quite formidable second row partnership with Marvin Orie, and this weekend they get to test themselves against a star-studded Stormers pack, including Springbok enforcer Etzebeth.
“The Stormers boast a big, quality pack,” said Lewies, “and year after year it’s been a big test.
“But it’s great measuring oneself against the best, and in a guy like Eben, he is the mark in South African rugby. You want to measure yourself against him; he’s the best in South Africa, and what better place than Ellis Park to face him. It’s going to be exciting.”
Besides Etzebeth, the visitors boast several big hitters like Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe and newbie loose-forward Jaco Coetzee.
There is, however, some doubt around the fitness of Du Toit and Kolisi.
Like Du Toit though, who has shifted between lock and flank in the last few years and currently is his franchise and the Boks’ first choice No 7, Lewies too has been trialled at blindside flank this year.
It’s a move that has excited the 27-year-old, who is headed to Harlequins in England after the Super Rugby competition.
“Personally, the opportunity to play flank this year is something that has excited me,” said Lewies.
“It’s something new that I’ve been able to add to my game and can take it into the future. Also, skills-wise and running-wise I’ve learned a lot here at the Lions from the coaches since joining the franchise. I’ve really enjoyed my time here.”
Lewies added it took him some time to get used to the thin Highveld air, having played for so long in Durban, but that he’d become a better player because of it.
“I really needed to get used to the thin air... especially with regards to the type of game the Lions like to play. You’ve got to be able to run a lot, where at the Sharks we focused more on gym work and the physical side of the game. But I think the fast-paced game suits me well and I’m enjoying playing in this Lions team.”
Lions coach Swys de Bruin named his team today.@jacq_west