Preview: Lions v Sharks

Date published: April 10 2015

Having already exceeded all expectations the Lions suddenly find themselves in a position where they can take charge of the South African Super Rugby conference if they manage to beat the Sharks in Johannesburg on Saturday.

That carrot is indeed one few would have predicted the Lions would have in their sights at this stage of the tournament considering their lack of international stars, but what they lack in experience, they have made up in commitment and courage.

One of the main contributing factors to the home team’s success has been the belief they have shown in their structures and that same team cohesion will make it a tough ask for Saturday's visitors, who have been struggling to settle on a set plan of action.

While the Sharks suffered one of their most humiliating defeats to the Crusaders last week, the Lions showed great composure as they edged the Bulls in a tightly contested derby.

The major concern in for the Durban-based squad has been their lack of discipline and on that front the loss of Jean Deysel – who received a seven-week suspension for foul play – could not have come at a worse time as the Lions received a boost in the loose-forward department with Jaco Kriel back in their run-on team.

In the build-up to this showdown Lions coach Johan Ackermann pointed out that teamwork has been vital in their campaign thus far and that he hoped to see more of the same this weekend.

"We have created a culture of responsibility in our group and players know what we expect from them," said Ackermann.

"The best way to stay out of trouble is always to keep your focus on executing the game plan."

Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold, who is on the receiving end of a lot of criticism due to his Springbok-loaded team’s lacklustre performances, is hoping that his men would have learned from their mistakes.

"Our performance this past weekend was unacceptable and we have taken full responsibility for the result and are determined to fix it this weekend," said Gold.

"We are under no illusions about the toughness of the task on Saturday; however, in saying that, we have worked extremely hard this week and are determined to get our campaign back on track."

Gold will also hope that his men start sticking to a set gameplan as his charges have yet to settle on a style of play while their inability to play the situation has brought his credentials as a coach under the spotlight.

The last time these team met: Following a poor start to the season the Sharks briefly returned to winning ways with a well deserved 29-12 victory over the Lions at Kings Park. Their defence and set-piece work proved vital while the Lions were unable to deal with conditions that did not compliment their natural running game.

Players to watch: As a source of inspiration for players like Warwick Tecklenburg, Warren Whiteley has established himself as one of the most valuable players in the competition due to the impeccable work he is doing in defence. The Lions captain, who became a father this week, will be banking on continued improvement from fly-half Elton Jantjies who has returned to the form that saw him earn a call-up to the Springbok squad in recent years. Debutant Mark Richards could also provide some extra flair out wide as his experience as a national Sevens player should be of great value to the team.
The Sharks will be banking on loose-forwards Ryan Kankowskiand Marcel Coetzee to make a significant impact in the breakdown battle while the inclusion of Fred Zeilinga at fly-half could bring some calm to a backline that has been struggling to unlock defensive lines. Prop Lourens Adriaanse also has a big role to play against a side that is priding themselves in their set-phase play.

Team news:Prop Julian Redelinghuys will start at tighthead for the Lions while Jaco Kriel also returns to the starting line-up at flank in the two changes upfront. In the backline, Faf de Klerk was given the nod ahead of Ross Cronje while Mark Richards will make his debut on the wing. Lock Marco Wentzel will captain the Sharks, their fourth skipper this year.  Odwa Ndungane has been named at full-back, replacing SP Marias who gets a rest after starting all eight matches to date. This sees the return of S'bura Sithole on the wing, with Fred Zeilinga replacing Lambie in the final change to the backline. Up front, there is an overhaul with Lourens Adriaanse, Franco Marais and Dale Chadwick packing down in the front row with Jannie du Plessis and Beast Mtawarira rested, while Renaldo Bothma replaces Deysel in the final change.

Form: After a successful tour of Australasia the Lions finally delivered in front of their home crowd by beating an understandably confident Bulls outfit. They have played a set brand of rugby and will look to build on the momentum they gained from three wins on a trot. The Sharks have had a mixed bag and just as they thought they were finding their groove they were humiliated at home by the Crusaders. They still have many star players in their ranks and their unpredictability could count in their favour.  

Predictions: Conditions under foot will again be a huge factor and if it is as wet as it was last week, the Sharks could edge the Lions in what should be a closely contested battle.  Weather permitting the Lions can bank a five point win against their opponents who will be without Springboks Tendai Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis who are being rested.

Previous results:
2015: Sharks won 29-12 in Durban
2014: Sharks won 25-12 in Johannesburg
2014: Sharks won 37-23 in Durban
2012: Lions won 38-28 in Johannesburg
2012: Sharks won 32-20 in Durban

The teams:

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Mark Richards, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Lohan Jacobs, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Howard Mnisi

Sharks:15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 S'bura Sithole, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Marco Wentzel (captain), 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Dale Chadwick
Replacements:16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Willem Alberts, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Lionel Cronje, 23 Jack Wilson

Date:Saturday, April 11
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off:  17:05 local (15:05 GMT, 01:05 AEST, 03:05 NZST)
Referee:Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees:Jaco van Heerden, Rodney Boneparte (both South Africa)
TMO:Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)