There will be plenty at stake when the Lions face the Kings in the second leg of their promotion/relegation clash on Saturday.
There will be plenty at stake when the Lions face the Kings in the second leg of their promotion/relegation clash in Johannesburg on Saturday.
The home side will be brimming with confidence after taking the spoils in a hard fought opening leg in Port Elizabeth last weekend. The Johannesburg-based side claimed a 26-19 victory in that encounter and will be keen to add the final nail into the Kings' coffin this weekend.
Tickets for this clash are sold out, which means that with 60 000 spectators filling through the turnstiles, a new Super Rugby attendance record will be set this weekend.
But despite having a first leg win in the bag and a large crowd in his side's corner, Lions boss Johan Ackermann is taking nothing for granted.
“The pressure stays the same, and in rugby seven points is not something to rest on and we have to start all over again and be accurate in what we do,” Ackermann said.
“The advantages that we've got, like the altitude and the home crowd, we have to use, but we still have to go out and do it.”
Lions skipper JC Janse van Rensburg is determined to go out on a high as he will be leaving for Top 14 outfit Bayonne after this weekend's match.
“I will be very angry and disappointed that I am leaving if we are not in Super Rugby next year, because I am a guy who believes that I have to do the job before I leave,” he said.
“If we win on Saturday, I'm also going to be sad. I'm already emotional, but then I can go with a clear heart. This is where my heart is and where I really enjoy playing. I've been playing here for eight years.”
The Kings suffered a major setback when their first-choice fly-half Demetri Catrakilis sustained a shoulder injury which will keep him on the sidelines for between six and eight weeks.
Losing Catrakilis puts the Port Elizabeth-based side at a huge disadvantage as his goal-kicking was one of the main reasons that they fared much better in this season's Super Rugby tournament than most rugby enthusiasts predicted.
Against all the odds, the Kings secured three wins – over the Western Force, Rebels and Highlanders – and a draw, and Catrakilis made significant contributions in each of those matches.
With him not there, however, the Kings' task appears to be much more daunting. That and the fact that their director of rugby, Alan Solomons, has announced that he will be leaving the franchise to take over the reins at Edinburgh, will put Super Rugby's newest team on the back-foot as they head into what is probably their most important fixture in their brief history.
Despite these setbacks, Solomons believes his troops can still surprise the Lions in their own backyard.
Solomons said the Kings would be looking to cut their error-rate – which played a huge part in their undoing in the first leg – and to make better use their opportunities.
“After looking at the video, our analysis was that we had plenty of opportunities but did not take them,” he said.
“The players are positive we can turn that around and we are looking forward to the challenge.
“We cannot afford to give them anything and will be working on cutting our error-rate down.”
Kings head coach Matt Sexton echoed those sentiments and revealed that his players are optimistic about their chances.
“I think the general feeling we have is excitement, it's a huge occasion, it's like a Test match or World Cup final,” he said.
“The guys are looking forward to the occasion.”
“You take each team on their merits and there are opportunities that will be presented during the match and we just need to capitalise on that.
“The times where we have been successful on the score board are times where we've been very clinical in our approach.”
Head-to-head: The back-row battle will play a huge part in determining the outcome of this encounter, specifically the duel between the two number eights. For the Kings Jacques Engelbrecht has been one of their main ball carriers this season. He thrives on the physical aspect of the game and once he builds up a head of steam, he will be difficult to stop. If the Kings want to be successful, much will depend on Engelbrecht's ability to get his side over the advantage line. His opposite number Warren Whiteley is a more skilfull player who enjoys running into space and linking with his backs. Both will play key roles in implementing their respective teams' game-plans and whoever comes out on top in this battle could also prove crucial in determining the end result.
Prediction: Don't be surprised if, like the first leg, this is another close battle. The Lions were more focussed in the opening tie and should continue where they left off last weekend. Lions to win by five points!
Lions: 15 Ruan Combrinck, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Dylan des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Willie Britz, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Guy Cronje, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Chrysander Botha.
Southern Kings: 15 SP Marais, 14 Scott van Breda, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Waylon Murray, 11 Hadleigh Parkes, 10 George Whitehead, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Darron Nell (ca), 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Charl du Plessis, 17 Hannes Franklin, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Devin Oosthuizen, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Wesley Dunlop, 22 Shane Gates.
Date:Saturday, August 3
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT)
Referee: Stuart Berry