Lions face tough task

A second-string Lions side will be tasked with the considerable challenge of overcoming the Jaguares in Buenos Aires to secure top spot in the overall Super Rugby standings on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

Lions coach Johan Ackermann divided opinion earlier this week when he opted to rest his first-choice players for the trip to Argentina.

With the Lions having already earned the right to host a quarter-final and semi-final (should they progress to that point), Ackermann opted to take the opportunity to rest his top players who have carried a heavy workload this season.

It’s a risk-versus-reward conundrum that Ackermann has had to weigh up this week, and in the end he decided to rather ensure that his first-choice players are fresh and raring to go ahead of the playoffs.

What it has done, though, is undoubtedly compromise the likelihood of the Lions coming away with a win that is set to be required if they are to reclaim the overall lead in the Super Rugby standings.

As it stands, the Johannesburg-based side (52 points) are just marginally ahead of the Chiefs (51) and the Crusaders (50), who will come up against the Highlanders (48) and Hurricanes (48) respectively on Saturday.

What will work in the Lions’ favour is that their game is the last of the weekend, and so they will know exactly where they stand as they look to reclaim the overall top spot.

Ackermann has placed his faith in a completely new-look team to still get the job done, with Ross Cronjé leading a group of players who have generally had limited game time this season.

They will have an incredible opportunity to now contribute to what has already been a historic season for the Lions, with one final hurdle in the conference stage still to be tackled.

Although the Jaguares have endured a disappointing debut season in Super Rugby (winning just the three games), they have generally been a formidable foe in Buenos Aires, and recently dispatched the Bulls 29-11.

On that occasion, wet-weather conditions played into the hands of the hosts, but the Lions will undoubtedly be hoping for weather that will be conducive to running rugby.

The new-look Lions are unlikely to go into their shells, and would have taken note of the fact that the Jaguares defence has been porous at times this season, while their discipline and handling haven’t always been up to standard. So, there should be some opportunities for the Lions on the attack if they are able to establish some cohesion and rhythm to their play despite coming together with limited time.

However, they need to be wary of a dangerous Jaguares forward pack and very effective lineout drive that they use to good effect.

Ultimately, the second-string Lions are likely to be up against it, but a new group of players still have an opportunity to earn the right for their side to enjoy home-ground advantage throughout the playoff stage.

It’s a significant incentive, and one that could still bring out the best in a host of backup players who have been entrusted with a considerable opportunity.

Overall: Lions 1, Jaguares 0
In Buenos Aires: This will be the teams’ first meeting here

– There were 76 points scored the last time these teams met in Super Rugby, with the Lions coming away with a 52-24 win.
– The Jaguares have led at half-time in four of their last seven Super Rugby games, although they’ve gone on to win only twice.
– The Lions have won their last five games. A sixth straight win would be their longest streak in Super Rugby history.
– Only the Reds (10 yellows) have been shown as many cards this season as the Jaguares (eight yellows, two reds), who are the only side to have been given more than one red card this campaign.
– Jaco Kriel (47) has beaten the most defenders of any forward this season, and the fifth-most overall.
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Jaguares Nicolás Sánchez (123) Martín Landajo (6) Facunda Isa (544) Tomás Lavanini (78)
Lions Elton Jantjies (148) Lionel Mapoe (9) Ruan Combrinck (1058) Franco Mostert (123)

Jaguares – 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo (c), 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6 Javier Ortega Desio, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Subs: 16 Facudo Bosch, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Mattias Alemanno, 20 Marcos Kremer, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 23 Mattias Orlando.

Lions – 15 Sylvian Mahuza, 14 Koch Marx, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronjé (c), 8 Cyle Brink, 7 Robert Kruger, 6 Stef de Witt, 5 Lourens Erasmus, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Jacques van Rooyen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Clinton Theron, 18 Pieter Scholtz, 19 Fabian Booysen, 20 Ruaan Lerm, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Shaun Reynolds, 24 Bobby de Wee, 25 Ashlon Davids.

Referee: Rohan Hoffman (Australia)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Santiago Borsani (Argentina)

SA Rugby magazine team's SuperBru picks

Sharks vs Sunwolves

Cheetahs vs Bulls

Stormers vs Kings

Crusaders vs Hurricanes

Highlanders vs Chiefs

Brumbies vs Force

Blues vs Waratahs

Reds vs Rebels

Photo: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix

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Craig Lewis