The Lions’ attack will set them apart in Saturday’s highly anticipated encounter against the Sharks at Ellis Park, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
There’s been so much to like about the Lions this season. Embracing an all-encompassing game, they’ve emerged as the side that has scored the second-most tries (55), while they remain in the top five in terms of clean breaks (141), carries (1,371), metres made (6,099) and defenders beaten (326).
It’s been a highly entertaining brand of rugby that has also reaped great rewards for a Lions side that has romped to nine victories this season, enabling them to open up a six-point lead at the top of the South African group.
Interestingly, the Lions somewhat moved away from their typically expansive approach when they took on the Sharks in Durban earlier this season. The visitors dominated the scrum battle and used their kicking game to good effect as they came away with a 24-9 win that was founded on an impressive tactical approach.
There’s no doubt the Lions will again have taken note of the defensive challenge that they can expect to face against the Sharks this Saturday. The Durban-based side has been forced to make the second-most number of tackles in the competition (1,496), but have maintained an impressive 86.9% tackle success rate.
The Sharks have also enforced a strong kicking game, which sees them ranked third when it comes to kicks from hand (307). It points to what should be an intriguing clash of styles on Saturday, but with Garth April at flyhalf, the Sharks may well offer a bit more with ball in hand.
It should also be noted that the Durbanites are the top-ranked side in terms of turnovers won (101), and so the Lions will need to be wary of conceding possession to a Sharks side that has proven to be lethal when pouncing on opposition errors.
The Sharks are without Pat Lambie and Willie le Roux for this clash, and while it has forced changes to the backline, there’s no doubt April will relish another opportunity to start at flyhalf, while reliable Odwa Ndungane slots in at fullback.
The Lions have been boosted by the return of fit-again Andries Coetzee at fullback, but will be without inspirational skipper Warren Whiteley, who is set to miss the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury.
The Lions will end the conference stage with matches against the Kings and Jaguares, but they should back themselves to solidify their position at the top of the South African group with another win on Saturday.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Sharks 10, Lions 4, Draw 1
In Johannesburg: Lions 3, Sharks 3, Draw 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The last six games between these sides have seen both pick up three victories, although only one of those games had a single-digit margin of victory.
– The Lions have won their last three games each by a margin of 28 points or more. The last time they won more games in succession was in round 11 of 2015 (five games).
– Not since the opening round of the 2016 campaign has a Sharks away fixture been decided by more than five points.
– The Sharks have conceded an average of only 7.4 clean breaks per game, the fewest of any team, although they will face a Lions team that averages more clean breaks (11.8) than any other South African team.
– The Lions are only three first-half points away from becoming the first team this season to have scored 200 points in each stanza (197 points in the first half, 222 points in the second half).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Lions||Elton Jantjies (123)||Lionel Mapoe (9)||Ruan Combrinck (903)||Franco Mostert (102)|
|Sharks||Joe Pietersen (72)||Paul Jordaan (4)||Willie le Roux (593)||André Esterhuizen (120)|
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Substitutes: 16 Armand van der Merwe,17 Corné Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen,19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Sharks – 15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Garth April, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira (c).
Subs: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Rhyno Smith, 23 Sibusiso Sithole.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Pro Legoete (South Africa)
TMO: Johann Greef (South Africa)
Photo: Steve Haag/Gallo Images