Preview: Sharks v Lions

07th Mar 2014, 11:25

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Pulling the strings: Pat Lambie

Pulling the strings: Pat Lambie

As they return to action following their first bye, the Sharks will be looking for more of the same when they host the Lions on Saturday.

As they return to action following their first bye, the Sharks will be looking for more of the same when they host the Lions in Durban on Saturday.

While the Sharks started the season producing the same uncanny ability to punish teams when presented with turnover possession, a drastic improvement in their defensive structure has been noted and this is part of the reason why Jake White's men are, again, early favourites to win the tournament.

By naming the same starting line-up for his team's third outing of the season, White is steadily increasing the trust factor within his squad while the World Cup-winning coach would undoubtedly agree that continuity in personnel at Super Rugby level is as rare as Lions victories over the Sharks have been over the years.

On the other side of the coin it could end up being somewhat of an emotional encounter for Lions coach Johan Ackermann whose first match in charge of the Johannesburg side was against the Sharks in 2012.

Ackermann started his tenure as head-coach at a time when clouds of uncertainty were in abundance at Ellis Park, but showed that he meant business when his side banked the only victory the Lions have recorded over the Sharks since they split from the Cats in 2006.

That loss derailed the Sharks campaign and if, by some miracle, it happens again in Durban it would again be a drastic dent in the Durban side's ambitions. even though it is early days yet.

While White had the luxury of showing continuity in his selection, Ackermann decided to reintroduce Elton Jantjies as his starting fly-half ahead of Marnitz Boshoff who has been shifted to full-back.

Jantjies has been sidelined through injury, but has made steadily returned to form playing in the lower leagues while Boshoff called the shots in the team's opening three matches.

His return puts the Lions in a position where they will have a left and right-footed kicker at their disposal, although Jantjies' ability to attack the gain-line may be of greater value against a side that has world beaters to protect that all important 10-12 channel.

To counter the wrath of Sharks captain Bismarck du Plessis and group of internationals, veteran Willie Wepener has been promoted from the bench and he will undoubtedly beef-up a pack that previously relied heavily on Springbok Franco van der Merwe's experience as guidance.

Whether this will be enough against a side where only one of their forwards has not played at Test level, remains to be seen although the prize of taking pole position in the South African conference could be a huge motivational factor for the underdogs of this match.

The Lions have an opportunity to prove that their strong start - with victories against the Cheetahs and Stormers - wasn't a flash in the pan.

The risk they run heading into this match is that the wheels could come off.

Prediction:While both sides are likely to give the ball air, the Sharks should have the upper hand at the set-phases. Sharks by twelve points

Sharks:15 SP Marais, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements:16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Heimar Williams, 23 S'bura Sithole

Lions:15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Deon van Rensburg, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Chrysander Botha, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Schalk van der Merwe
Replacements:16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Willie Britz, 21 Ross Cronje 22, JW Jonker, 23 Coenie van Wyk

Date: Saturday, March 8
Kick-off: 19:10 local (17.10 GMT)
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa) Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)