Jul 212017

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The Lions and Sharks meet for the second time in as many weeks in what should be a thrilling Super Rugby quarter-final at Ellis Park on Saturday.

The Lions had more to play for last weekend with top spot up for grabs whereas the Sharks could not improve on their eighth position.

This weekend the Sharks will have it all to play for but without the added pressure of being favourites, a tag that falls on the shoulders of the Lions.

And Sharks winger Kobus Van Wyk, who scored the Sharks’ only try of the game last weekend, is relishing being labelled as the underdog.

“You never know what can happen with the underdog,” Van Wyk said.

Although they are the biblical David in this clash with Goliath, there is a measure of self-belief in the team.

“After the defeat, we obviously didn’t feel great, but we returned to training on Monday and the boys are ready, our heads are in the right place,”added Van Wyk.

“After losing to them twice, hopefully it will be a case of third time lucky.

“They’re a very good outfit, but if we can put pressure on their playmakers and if our forwards pitch up and win the contests, we are going to be in business.”

Beating the Lions won’t be easy, but there is a plan and it’s about maintaining ball possession when they have it, and then closing out the opportunities.

“Keeping the ball – that’s what we need to do to win,” he points out. “Our strike rate from scrums and lineouts wasn’t that great on Saturday, so we need to make sure for the first few phases that we need to hang on to the ball.

“It would be awesome to beat them up there, the boys are really keen. We’re ready to fire.”

Meanwhile, the Lions will feel that this is their best opportunity to go one better than last season and win the competition for the first time in their history, having lost to the Hurricanes in the 2016 final.

Coach Johan Ackermann has done a great job over the years of getting the side to this point where they are genuine challengers and the team would love to give him a fitting send-off as he departs at the end of the season take over the reins at Gloucester.

The Lions lost just one of their 15 games, with that defeat coming against the Jaguares. But significantly they have yet to face New Zealand opposition.

The Sharks have struggled for consistency at times, managing nine wins in their 15 games. Since a four-match winning streak from Rounds 2-6, they have been unable to put together a sustained run of wins.

Prediction: The Lions will have too much firepower, especially at home. Lions by 15.

Players List:
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.

Replacements: 16 Akker vd Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.

Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 S’busiso Nkosi, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit.

Replacements: 16 Franco Marais/Stephan Coetzee, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Garth April, 23 Jeremy Ward.