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Preview: Lions v Sharks

11th April 2014 09:19

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Derick Minnie Lions

Key return: Derick Minnie

Returning to winning ways will be front of mind for the Lions when they host the Sharks at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Friday.

Having started the season superbly, the side that has caused the most upsets thus far suffered an implosion of note against the Crusaders, and will have to rectify the schoolboy errors that crept into their game if they are to have any chance of beating the top-ranked Super Rugby team.

In preparation for the contest the Lions would have worked tirelessly to ensure the accuracy they produced at set-phase in previous matches again becomes one of their key strengths.

Equally a step-up in defence, particularly from broken play, should make it even tougher for the Sharks to record their first Super Rugby victory at Ellis Park since 2010.

As far as personnel changes are concerned, Derick Minnie can be viewed as a tremendous boost to a side that lacked accuracy at the breakdown.

Minnie is regarded as one of the best open-side flankers in the country and his influence on the team, from both a physical and mental perspective, is unlikely to go by unnoticed.

In their previous home victories against the Sharks, the Lions entered each of those contests with external motivation.

The win in 2012, prior to their Super Rugby relegation, was Ackermann's first outing as head coach and on that occasion they team dedicated their performance to long-serving centre and captain Doppies La Grange.

The Sharks will be pleased to know that this should not be a tribute match of any sort and that their opponents have lost some of the momentum gain through victories over the Blues and Reds.

Playing at altitude the week after their bye is likely to be the real poser for Jake White's men who - in a somewhat ironic twist - will dedicate their performance to winger and soon to be Super Rugby centurion Odwa Ndungane.

Ndungane has been one of their most consistent players over the years and could be one of the most desperate men in the competition to win a Super Rugby title as it could be the only way to silence his twin brother, Akona, who has two trophies to show for his efforts.

From a team perspective, the Sharks have reverted from their more expansive ways to a system where structure is placed on a pedestal.

As formidable as their pack is on paper, White would have noticed that one of the Lions' key strengths is their work at scrum time.

Domination up front will therefore be a priority.

This should be a cracker between two sides who have goal-kickers who will not let ill-discipline go unpunished.

Prediction: The Sharks should showcase a superior defensive structure and win it by seven.

The teams:

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Willie Britz, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Alwyn Hollenbach.

Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 S'bura Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Paul Jordaan, 23 SP Marais.

Date: Saturday, April 12
Kick-off: 19:10 local (18:10 BST, 17:10 GMT)
Venue: Ellis Park
Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Stefan Breytenbach (South Africa)
Television match official: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

By Michael Mentz
@Michael_Mentz

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