Lions look­ing to bring ‘Test’ in­ten­sity

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - JAC­QUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN

LIONS boss Jo­han Ack­er­mann has called on his play­ers to pro­duce a Test-like per­for­mance when they host the Sun­wolves at El­lis Park tomorrow.

The South African Su­per Rugby pace-set­ters are back in ac­tion this week­end af­ter a month off, a time dur­ing which sev­eral of the play­ers turned out for ei­ther the Spring­boks or the SA “A” side. No less than 13 starters against the Sun­wolves rep­re­sented their coun­try at some stage dur­ing June.

The only player miss­ing from a full-strength Lions side for the match tomorrow is cap­tain War­ren White­ley, whose Su­per Rugby sea­son is over be­cause of a pelvic in­jury. Jaco Kriel, has been named as the team leader in his ab­sence.

Ack­er­mann said he was ex­pect­ing a big show­ing from his men against the Sun­wolves. “With all the na­tional play­ers back we must keep the mo­men­tum go­ing. These guys are all high on con­fi­dence and my ex­pec­ta­tion of them is to play at the high level they main­tained over the last month ... with the same de­sire, hunger and in­ten­sity.”

The Sun­wolves, hav­ing won just once in 12 out­ings this year, are un­likely to se­ri­ously threaten the Lions at home, but Ack­er­mann said he felt it was im­por­tant to still play his strong­est team, even though many of the play­ers have played and trained non-stop dur­ing June.

“It’s an im­por­tant one for us ... to keep the pres­sure on the Cru­saders,” ex­plained the coach. “All we can do is keep win­ning and chal­lenge for top spot later on. What hap­pens to the Cru­saders is out of our hands ... our main ob­jec­tive re­mains to play win­ning rugby, to score tries and to en­ter­tain the fans with our brand of rugby.”

Right now the Lions are se­cured of host­ing a home quar­ter-fi­nal, and po­ten­tially a semi­fi­nal, but it is top spot over­all they’re chas­ing to give them­selves a home fi­nal, should they progress that far in the com­pe­ti­tion. With two games to go (against the Sun­wolves and Sharks) the Lions have 56 points while the Cru­saders have 63 points, with just the one match re­main­ing, against the Hur­ri­canes, away, in two weeks’ time.

“I want us to put in a big ef­fort this week­end and then the guys can rest and freshen up next week, with the bye,” said Ack­er­mann. “The guys need a break, which they’ll get next week, and then they’ll come back men­tally and phys­i­cally ready for the last stretch.

“It was an easy de­ci­sion to pick the strong­est team ... all the guys are in form and we need to bag this win,” said Ack­er­mann.

Mean­while, Kriel has made it clear he will see out his con­tract with the Lions be­fore de­cid­ing on the next move in his ca­reer. The flanker has been linked with a big money move to Wasps in Eng­land, but the eight-cap Bok said yes­ter­day it would be pre­ma­ture to talk about where he will play next. “Even my dad asked me the other day about the news of my sup­posed move to Eng­land,” said Kriel. “I’ve got a con­tract and am signed with the Lions un­til the end of Su­per Rugby 2018, but I’ve got noth­ing af­ter that.” Kriel has also got a con­tract with Kub­ota Spears in Ja­pan.

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