The Lions have toured well under Johan Ackermann in recent times, winning on three occasions in four outings last year. They did come unstuck against the Crusaders, but fresh in their memory will be their triumph over their opponents on Saturday and last year’s eventual competition winners, the Highlanders, at Ellis Park. Ackermann’s men won 28-23 and also out-scored Jamie Joseph’s men three tries to two. And, with wins against the Sunwolves in Tokyo and the Chiefs in Hamilton already in the bag on this trip confidence will be sky-high in the camp.
While the absence of Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe could be seen as a hammer-blow to the Lions, but the centre pairing of Howard Mnisi and Rohan Janse van Rensburg is every bit as threatening and dangerous. Mnisi and Janse van Rensburg were the midfield duo in last year’s Currie Cup final against Western Province and know each other well.
Mnisi is a powerful centre whose diamond is shining brighter all the time, while Janse van Rensburg will be champing at the bit to show what he can do. Jaco van der Walt also possibly strengthens the side at fullback, the youngster a genuine counter-attacking threat, while the new-look front row of Ruan Dreyer, Robbie Coetzee and Jacques van Rooyen will be fresh and also looking to make a big impact.
If Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies are able to reach the levels they did against the Chiefs then there’s every chance the Lions can again outscore their hosts in the try department. The two men were outstanding in just about everything they did in Hamilton and under roof in Dunedin should again be keen to set the standard for their team.
De Klerk has again started the competition like a bull terrier chasing a rabbit and his slick service, quickness to the rucks and sniping breaks should keep the Highlanders on their toes. Then there’s Jantjies … a player who finally seems to be in control of everything he’s doing, his reading of the game and distribution standing out. There’s also been very little wrong with his goal-kicking, something that could be the difference between winning and losing on Saturday.
Ackermann is a massive fan of rotating his players – and he’s done so again – but then he usually does so in the front row as he knows just how demanding it is for his players to be at optimum level week-in and week-out. But Ackermann also knows how important it is to keep a good thing going and like he’s done with his scrumhalf-flyhalf combination, he’s kept intact his formidable and ever-improving back row partnership of Warren Whiteley, Warwick Tecklenburg and Jaco Kriel.
Is there a better loose-trio in the competition? The three men, while so different in their approach and the role they play in the team, complement each other brilliantly, but it’s not only their attacking threat that will ask questions of the Highlanders defence, but their tackling ability that will be needed to keep the hosts in check.
Sure, the Highlanders have Aaron Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Malakai Fekitoa, Patrick Osborne and Ben Smith in their back division. But then the Lions, too, have some players who’ve shown in recent years they’re every bit as lethal when the tryline comes into sight.
Right wing Ruan Combrinck has got to be the most under-rated finisher in the game, the former fullback full of running and always eyeing the gap.
And how the Bulls must be wishing they didn’t let go of Courtnal Skosan. The slightly built flier has been a revelation since joining Ackermann’s team and he’ll make any defence pay if they allow him space and time.
Original source: Hat-trick of overseas wins in Lions’ sights