Lions set to stick to what they do best
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.”