Lions set to stick to what they do best

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

WHETHER top spot is on the line or not, the Lions will play the same kind of rugby their fans have come to ex­pect from them over the last two sea­sons.

That was the mes­sage of coach Johan Ack­er­mann yes­ter­day ahead of his team’s fi­nal round-robin match against the Sharks in Durban on Satur­day.

When the Lions kick­off against the Sharks, they will know whether they have a chance of top­ping the over­all stand­ings, or not, which would give them the best chance of win­ning the Su­per Rugby com­pe­ti­tion. Ear­lier in the day on Satur­day the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons, the Hurricanes, host the un­beaten Cru­saders in Welling­ton, where a win for the men from Christchurch will guar­an­tee them the over­all top spot and a home game in ev­ery play-off match.

A win for the Hurricanes though, will mean the Lions can over­take the Cru­saders and fin­ish top over­all and give them a home fi­nal, should they progress that far. As things stand be­fore the week­end’s matches, the Cru­saders have won 14 from 14 for 63 points, while the Lions have won 13 from 14 for 61 points. Both teams are al­ready guar­an­teed of host­ing a quar­ter-fi­nal and pos­si­ble semi-fi­nal.

Ack­er­mann said yes­ter­day that the out­come of the match in Welling­ton would have no bear­ing on how his team will ap­proach their match in Durban.

“Ob­vi­ously we’re go­ing to be play­ing for top spot or not ... but it’s go­ing to have no im­pact on how we ap­proach the game,” he said yes­ter­day.

“What we want out of the game, re­gard­less of the re­sult in Welling­ton, is to get back into a rhythm and get some mo­men­tum be­hind us af­ter our bye last week­end. Also, we have to click into gear ahead of the play­offs, and that is far more im­por­tant to us. We’ve got a quar­ter-fi­nal to think about be­fore any­thing else.”

Ack­er­mann said he would chal­lenge his play­ers to lift the in­ten­sity of their game fol­low­ing their week off. “We have our own stan­dards we need to main­tain ... and the Sharks will hope­fully pro­vide us with an op­por­tu­nity to get to where we want to be,” Ack­er­mann said.

“They’re the per­fect kind of team to face be­fore the knock­out rounds. It’s go­ing to be a hard game, they’re a tough team to play against, so it’ll give the play­ers a chance to get their bod­ies into ac­tion again but also al­low us to get our game plan work­ing nicely.

“The Sharks are big and strong and re­ally phys­i­cal, every­thing we need be­fore the play­offs. Sure, they’ve been a lit­tle in­con­sis­tent this year, but they pushed us close the last time we met (at El­lis Park when the Lions won 34-29) and they’ll also want a big ef­fort ahead of their play­off game next week. I just want my guys to put in a big per­for­mance that will give them be­lief and mo­men­tum ahead of next week’s play­off.”

Ack­er­mann ad­mit­ted that he would not eas­ily change the make-up of the side that did duty against the Sun­wolves two weeks ago, mean­ing Rohan Janse van Rens­burg, Jaco van der Walt and Rob­bie Coet­zee, would have to wait an­other week, or two, be­fore re­turn­ing to the match­day squad.

“I’ll look at them in train­ing and then make a call, de­cide who of them will add some­thing unique to the squad,” said Ack­er­mann.

“They’re all qual­ity play­ers who pro­duced some qual­ity per­for­mances be­fore they got in­jured (or sus­pended in Coet­zee’s case), but I’m also not go­ing to change for the sake of change. I want to re­ward the guys who’ve brought us here and who have per­formed well in re­cent weeks.”

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