The Lions will hope their selection gamble doesn’t backfire as they head to Buenos Aires to face the Jaguares in Super Rugby on Saturday.
A brand new Lions XV is named for the Vélez Sarsfield fixture in the final game of the regular-season, with plenty set to be on the line.
Before kick-off the Johannesburg outfit will know their task but it seems highly likely they will need a win to secure top spot. The best case scenario would be the Highlanders and Hurricanes winning without bonus points. Then the Lions could afford a loss but not a big one.
Of course it is not a disaster should they fall to the Jaguares as the lowest position they can finish in the overall standings is second. But they would lose a home path to the final – that would be swooped upon by a New Zealand side as the Lions take a risk with their team.
Johan Ackermann has made his decision and while it has divided opinion, one can’t fault his conviction and calls up to now in 2016 as the Lions have enjoyed a brilliant season. 11 victories played via a good brand has brought new fans from outside South Africa. Unfortunately that hasn’t resulted in more bums on seats at Ellis Park but one hopes there is a full house next week when things heat up in Super Rugby.
To recap, they’re minus Dylan Smith, Julian Redelinghuys, Malcolm Marx, Andries Ferreira, Franco Mostert, Jaco Kriel, Warwick Tecklenburg, Ruan Ackermann, Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe, Ruan Combrinck, Courtnall Skosan and Andries Coetzee.
It’s a shame those players are not involved as Ackermann also risks missing the chance to record their longest winning run in Super Rugby history. They’re currently on a five-game streak but against a full-strength Jaguares XV one would think their strong form is set to end.
It would be nothing short of embarrassing if this Puma-filled Jaguares side were to lose on Saturday and while they’ve been disappointing this season, surely they will end their campaign with the win. If not questions will be asked, not just in Argentina but also New Zealand.
The last time the teams met: The Lions crossed eight times against the Jaguares in their meeting in May as they ran out to a 52-24 victory in Johannesburg. They looked a class apart on the day as scores from Courtnall Skosan (2), Lionel Mapoe, Lourens Erasmus, Cyle Brink, Jaco Kriel and Ruan Combrinck (2) saw them cruise. In reply the Jaguares’ scorers were Nicolás Sánchez and Gonzalo Bertranou late in the match.
Players to watch: One of the few positives for the Jaguares in their loss last week was the carrying of number eight Facundo Isa. The huge back-row is developing nicely as a player – Argentina will hope that continues in the Rugby Championship – and it’s vital that he combines well with Martín Landajo and Nicolás Sánchez this Saturday. That spine needs to be strong while Julian Montoya must also find his jumpers.
For the Lions, he has been out in the cold this season due to the form of Lionel Mapoe but Stokkies Hanekom gets a rare start on Saturday. A quality centre who will combine well with Howard Mnisi, this duo will relish the game, as will Akker van der Merwe who starts at hooker.
Team news: Jaguares head coach Raúl Pérez has made two changes to his starting team. Due to an injury to captain and hooker Agustín Creevy, Julian Montoya comes into the side while the other alteration to the side that lost to the Highlanders last weekend sees Pablo Matera miss out so Javier Ortega Desio moves from lock to the flank and Guido Petti comes into the second-row as they look to end 2016 on a high note.
Ross Cronjé captains the Lions and will have the experienced Howard Mnisi to help with the leadership duties after Johan Ackermann decided to rest his starting line-up which did duty in their 57-21 win over the Kings last weekend. Dylan Smith, Julian Redelinghuys, Malcolm Marx, Andries Ferreira, Franco Mostert, Jaco Kriel, Warwick Tecklenburg, Ruan Ackermann, Faf de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe, Ruan Combrinck, Courtnall Skosan and Andries Coetzee all miss the game, with the busy Akker van der Merwe starting at hooker.
Form: After beating the Bulls a fortnight ago, the Jaguares were brought back down to earth with a bump last week as the Highlanders eased past them 34-8. That was their 11th loss of their debut Super Rugby season with only three wins to their name in a disappointing campaign.
The visiting Lions have been in superb form as they head into this final regular-season round on top of the overall pile. Their record is the complete opposite of the Jaguares as they have won 11 and lost just three games. Since losing to the Hurricanes, they have beaten the Blues 43-5, the Jaguares 52-24, the Bulls 56-20, the Sharks 37-10 and the Kings 57-21. That is 245 points in five games, an average of 49.
Prediction: Despite their poor year, if the hosts don’t win against this second-string Lions side then it will be a shock. Jaguares by 15.
2016: Lions won 52-24 in Johannesburg
Jaguares: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6 Javier Ortega Desio, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Facundo Bosch, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Mattias Alemanno, 20 Marcos Kremer, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Mattias Orlando
Lions: 15 Sylvian Mahuza, 14 Koch Marx, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronjé (c), 8 Cyle Brink, 7 Robert Kruger, 6 Stef de Witt, 5 Lourens Erasmus, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Jacques van Rooyen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Corné Fourie
Replacements (from): 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Clinton Theron, 18 Pieter Scholtz, 19 Fabian Booysen, 20 Ruaan Lerm, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Shaun Reynolds, 24 Bobby de Wee, 25 Ashlon Davids
Date: Saturday, July 16
Venue: Vélez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires
Kick-off: 18:40 local (21:40 GMT)
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)