The Currie Cup champions, the Lions, should not expect any favours when they arrive at Newlands on Friday to take on the Stormers in a Super Rugby pre-season outing.
It is indeed a game of ‘champions’ – the Lions as winners of South Africa’s premier domestic competition and the Stormers having won the SA conference in the 2011 S15 season.
While the coaches will tell you the result is meaningless and they are using the game as a trial, there will be plenty at stake – such as early bragging rights.
For most pundits the game is the first opportunity to see if the Lions can duplicate their Currie Cup success on the Super Rugby stage.
Stormers skipper Schalk Burger is wary of a side that always plays at a high tempo and have an abundance of youthful exuberance.
“The previous time we played against them we were outplayed,” Burger said of the Johannesburg-based franchise’s back-to-back Currie Cup victories – 42-25 (in a league match) and 29-20 (in the semifinal) – in October last year.
And he doesn’t expect the Lions to change tact just because this is a trial match.
“Every pre-season we’ve played against them they’ve played with a lot of endeavour and tried to keep the ball in hand,” Burger said, adding: “I think they see it as a fitness session and I expect a lot of quick throw-ins and to create time play with the ball, which also suits us.”
Lions captain Josh Strauss said he is well aware that having won the Currie Cup last year will not bring any guarantees of success in 2012.
In fact he felt the target on their collective backs will only be bigger.
He used the Cheetahs as a prime example of Currie Cup winners that failed to make an impact in Super Rugby the following year – with the Bloemfontein men having finished second-to-last in the 2008 Super Rugby season, after winning the premier domestic prize the year before.
“We are obviously delighted about our [Currie Cup] victory last year, but this is a brand new ball game,” Strauss said about the 2012 Super Rugby season.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee was cautious to put too much emphasis on the outcome of Friday’s match and spoke of “trying to get the best possible combinations”.
“The rugby aspects are also still important, like the set-piece and attack, so we’ve tweaked here and there to see if it’s going to work,” Coetzee said.
“We just have to make sure everyone is still on par with the systems.”
Prediction: The Lions managed to upstage the Stormers with all their Springboks in October last year, but that was in Johannesburg. This is in Cape Town. The Stormers have had more than two months of pre-season work and plenty of opportunity to get their structures right. The key players on both teams are at flyhalf – where the Stormers are putting young Gary van Aswegen on trial and the Lions have big-hitting Springbok veteran Butch James in the No.10 jersey. However, you have to feel that the home team will have a slight edge and the Stormers should sneak an exciting encounter by less than 10 points.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Louis Schrueder, 8 Nick Köster, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6. Schalk Burger (captain), 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements – from: Tiaan Liebenberg, Deon Carstens, Frans Malherbe, Don Armand, Reuben Johannes, Nizaam Carr, Nic Groom, Burton Francis, Marcel Brache, Gerhard van den Heever, Danie Poolman.
Lions: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Doppies La Grange, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Butch James, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Joshua Strauss (captain), 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements – from: Callie Visagie, Caylib Oosthuizen, Jacobie Adriaanse, Stephan Greeff, Ruan Botha, Cobus Grobbelaar, Doppies Le Roux, Anthony Volmink, Dylan Des Fountain, James Kamana, Andries Coetzee.
Date: Friday, January 27
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Kick-off: 19.00 (17.00 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Matt Kemp, Marc van Zyl