Preview: Lions v Cheetahs

Date published: July 11 2014

On face value it may be dead rubber but it wouldn't be a surprise if the Lions approached their last game of the season as a final.

On face value it may be another dead rubber, but with so much at stake it would not be a surprise if the Lions approached their last Super Rugby showdown of the season as a final.

The pride of Johannesburg on Saturday host a Cheetahs side beaming with confidence following their victory over the conference-leading Sharks and know that if they manage to get the better of their feline cousins, it would represent their best Super Rugby season since gaining independence from the Cats.

And if that milestone is not motivation enough, the fact that the Lions are bidding farewell to long-serving lock Franco van der Merwe should have a positive effect on the way they approach this derby.

Van der Merwe joined the side in 2006 when the amalgamation between the Lions and Cheetahs was called off and has over the years built a reputation as one of their most loyal and decorated servants.

Not only has he outlasted at least six coaches, he also captained the side and is but one of a handful of players who would go on to represent the Springboks.

Van der Merwe is in the same mould as Doppies la Grange and Cobus Grobbelaar who kept the faith throughout the time they spent at Ellis Park and has built a reputation for giving his all no matter how tough the challenge may be.

As was the case when Lions legends La Grange and Grobbelaar departed, the Lions should again lift their game as they bid farewell to what can be viewed as the last survivor of the older generation.

“Franco will be missed — most of us will miss him for what he's done on the field,” Lions coach Johan Ackermann noted.

“He always put in a 100 percent,” Ackermann said of the Springbok lock.

“Even more off the field – the character that he is, he is a leader first of all then he is a fun guy to be with.

Equally the Cheetahs are also preparing to bid farewell to a host of players who will either be joining the Bulls or chasing the big bucks overseas.

They should be further motivated by the opportunity to get even with the opponents who ensured their season started on a sour note in Bloemfontein.

That last minute loss to the Lions prevented Naka Drotske's charges from gaining any sort of momentum ahead of their Australasian tour while at the same time highlighting certain inefficiencies that would prevent them from playing to their full potential.

While there may be some relief that the man (Marnitz Boshoff) who inflicted that loss will be starting from the bench, it should not detract from a battle between starting 10 Elton Jantjies and Johan Goosen who at one stage were in fierce competition to become the next Springbok pivot.

Both Jantjies and Goosen are heading overseas after this match and owe it to the unions that gave them the opportunity to become the players they are today to put in a solid performance.

With the wind in their sails following their surprise win over the Sharks, the Drotske opted for continuity in his selection while Ackermann made a few injury enforced switches.

Apart from Jantjies taking over at 10 from Boshoff, Lionel Mapoe will start at the wing in the place of Deon van Rensburg while full-back Andries Coetzee makes his return from injury in the place of Coenie van Wyk.

Form: Both sides head into the contest fresh off victories and should again play with the attacking flair they are known for. Whether the decision to demote Marnitz Boshoff to the bench will come back to haunt the Lions remains to be seen, although the fact that the same pack of forwards that did the job against the Rebels were selected could be of greater importance.

Recent results:
2014 Lions won 21-20 Bloemfontein
2012: Cheetahs won 26-5 in Welkom
2012 Lions won 27-25 in Johannesburg
2011 Cheetahs won 19-53 Johannesburg

Prediction: Lions to win it by 5!

The teams:

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe
Replacements:16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Willie Britz, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Courtnall Skosan

Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Ryno Benjamin, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Caylib Oosthuizen, 17 Luan de Bruin, 18 Carl Wegner, 19 Jean Cook, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Hennie Daniller

Date: Saturday, July 12

Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg

Kick-off: 17:10 local (15:10 GMT)

Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen