Lions boss Johan Ackermann hit the nail on the head this week when he said his side now had to capitalise on their good start to this year’s Super Rugby competition.
Ackermann’s Lions have eight home matches to come and a further three on grounds in South Africa – with just the one in another country (the Jaguares in Buenos Aires right at the end of the competition) – so they’re sitting pretty right now.
Their wins on the road against the Sunwolves and Chiefs (to go with a defeat against the Highlanders last Saturday) means they can look forward to home comforts for some time, starting with today’s clash against the Cheetahs at Ellis Park (5pm).
It is a venue where the Lions went unbeaten in the Currie Cup last season – in fact, they went unbeaten throughout the 12 weeks of the competition on their way to capturing the title – so they’ll be full of confidence going into their forthcoming games.
But, after a challenging week when travelling and poor weather influenced their build-up to Saturday’s match, the Cheetahs will believe they’ve got a sniff at causing what would be an upset victory; more so after they picked up their first win of the campaign last weekend – in Singapore against the Sunwolves.
Added to that the Cheetahs welcome back towering and influential lock Lood de Jager after he missed the trip to Singapore and he’ll certainly boost his team’s chances of winning.
Coach Franco Smith has also named a new front row and their battle with the Lions’ front three should go a long way in determining who has the upper-hand.
The battle between the Lions’ Julian Redelinghuys and the Cheetah’ Charles Marais could prove crucial, especially after the Lions’ scrumming was shown up by the Highlanders a week ago.
Crucially, though, the Lions will field a team many would consider the first choice XV, with hooker Malcolm Marx also back while out wide Lionel Mapoe returns after being given personal leave last week and his partnership with Howard Mnisi will get another opportunity to flourish.
“Howard’s a great player and the more time we spend together on the field the easier it will be for us to click,” said Mapoe this week.
“It’s great being back in the mix – it was tough watching the guys from so far away last weekend. I’m looking forward to this game and hopefully it’ll be nice and dry.”
Their midfield battle could light up the contest, with the Cheetahs duo of William Small-Smith and Francois Venter also in very good form at the moment.
Then again, the head-to-head between Elton Jantjies and Neil Marais -in both goal-kicking and how well they get their backs moving – could prove to be the deciding factor of the game.
If conditions are dry expect an open, fast-paced game – something the Lions have mastered in recent times and relish playing – but should it be wet there’s little chance of fans seeing the best of their team for the first time on home soil this year. – Saturday tar