The Lions are brimming with confidence after a successful tour of Australasia which saw them pick up three wins from four matches. They go into Saturday’s derby in 10th position on the points table, but a win with other results going their way could see them jump up to seventh.
Whiteley highlighted his team’s growing maturity as one of the reasons for their success in Australia and New Zealand, but said they now had to continue on that winning trend on home soil.
“I think the maturity of the group stood out for me on tour,” he said yesterday. “Also the experience of having toured before helped ... a lot of the Lions players toured for the first time last year.
“Also, the coaching team got the balance just right. They knew when we needed to train, but they also gave us time off, allowing us to experience new things.
“But we knew we had a job to do and we showed a maturity in delivering some good performances.”
Having registered wins against the Blues, Rebels and Reds though has brought about an expectation to also now win at home. The Lions lost both their matches at home before going abroad – against the Hurricanes and Stormers.
“That’s the pressure we now have to deal with,” said Whiteley. “In our first season back in Super Rugby (last year) we went from wanting to improve, to wanting to be contenders now. Hopefully after the good tour we can now also play some good rugby at home ... you’d expect that when a team starts maturing.”
Lions boss Johan Ackermann agreed his side now have to step up against a team that isn’t floundering in the bottom part of the log. “Those teams (Blues, Rebels and Reds) will still win some matches but we’re now up against a Bulls team that’s in the top half of the log. We’ve got to take our game forward now and not let things slip. We need to keep the momentum going. If we want to get up there (among the contenders) we need to beat a team like the Bulls.”
The men from Pretoria will arrive on a high after their thrilling win against the Crusaders, something Ackermann said should lead to a hugely entertaining game. “In the four weeks that we were away the Bulls have become their normal selves again. They’re playing a good brand of rugby and they’re very physical and against the Crusaders showed what they can do. They’re never an easy prospect.
“But we’re back at home, in familiar surroundings, and have a lot of confidence and momentum. We’re looking forward to it; it’s always a nice derby.”
Ackermann has again made a few changes to the side that wonin Brisbane a week ago, with Anthony Volmink the beneficiary of the team losing two wings to injury this week. Both Sampie Mastriet and Courtnall Skosan have ankle problems, allowing Volmink to make his first start in Super Rugby this year.
“He’s got the X-Factor,” said Ackermann. “He’s played a lot of Vodacom Cup rugby this year and is fully fit. He’s got speed, something you can’t buy, and he’s big and physical so we just need to create chances for him.
“I’ve told him he’s now got a chance ... it’s not every week that we lose two wings, opening up a position for someone, so Anthony must make the most of it.”
In the pack Jacques van Rooyen is back at loosehead prop in place of the injured Schalk van der Merwe, while in the second row Andries Ferreira gets a start because Martin Muller is sidelined. Bulls coach Frans Ludeke will name his team today. - The Star
Original source: Red-hot Lions face in-form Bulls