The men from Durban appear to be in all sorts of disarray following their humiliation at the hands of the Crusaders last week. Not helping their cause is the fact stalwarts and seasoned campaigners Bismarck du Plessis, Frans Steyn and Jean Deysel are all serving lengthy suspensions for foul play. On top of that, key playmaker Pat Lambie is missing through injury.
Most concerning of all, though, is the fact the Sharks haven’t been playing good rugby of late. They’ve stuttered to a handful of wins and director of rugby Gary Gold will probably be the first to admit his team are nowhere near playing to their full potential. It’s this sort of pressure the Lions will hope to feed on today as they look to go into their bye week with a fifth win in six matches, which would set them up nicely for the second half of their campaign.
Further favouring the Lions is the fact the Sharks are a far from settled combination. There are changes all over the place – Odwa Ndungane playing at fullback, S’bura Sithole coming in on the wing, Waylon Murray featuring at centre, Fred Zeilinga starting at flyhalf, Marco Wentzel captaining the side at lock and in the front row, props Lourens Adriaanse and Dale Chadwick make starts, along with hooker Franco Marais.
It’s a new-look team, with little international experience, while their opponents, the Lions, have gelled nicely in recent weeks and a number of this country’s star performers at the moment don the red and white jersey.
The Lions will know they have a golden opportunity to knock over another big side following their win over the Bulls last week, but as captain Warren Whiteley said this week, the Sharks will be desperate to rectify what went wrong a week ago. “We’re approaching this as a final … that’s how important it is to us. We know how determined they’ll be and we’re not underestimating them.”
The last time the teams met, in round two, the Lions’ scrum was heavily penalised and the Durban side pretty much coasted to a victory. Since then Ackermann has got his front row working like clockwork again and if they can dominate the scrums we could see a reversal of what happened in late February.
More crucial, though, could be the battle for the loose ball and what a contest awaits. The Lions loose-trio of Whiteley, Warwick Tecklenburg and Jaco Kriel looks menacing, but so does the Sharks back-row of Marcell Coetzee, Renaldo Bothma – one of the standouts of his team – and Ryan Kankowski.
For the Lions, defence will again be the watchword, while the Sharks have it all to do in the discipline department if they’re to have a chance of turning their season around.
Come 7pm, we’ll know just how powerful the depth is at the Sharks and, more importantly, whether they’re mentally tough enough to be considered title contenders. As for the Lions; will their bubble burst or will they continue to punch above their weight and register another win? – Saturday Star
Original source: Lions eye Sharks feast