Will the Lions simply pick up where they left off?
for the Lions.
Their remaining games are against the Sharks today ( home), Kings ( home) and Jaguares (away) – three fixtures they’ll believe they should win, but the international break means the reset button has been pushed.
No one quite knows how the teams will react to the month-long interval; how will their inactivity affect rhythm and understanding, fluency and momentum?
Now there’s a chance the Sharks will believe they can head to Ellis Park and pull off a win. Before the break, no one would have given Gary Gold’s men a chance even though they, too, were on something of a roll. They had a bye before the break, but had previously beaten the Kings (53-0), Jaguares (25-22, away) and Hurricanes (32-15).
And it’s something that the Lions are well aware of. “The Sharks are desperate,” said Ackermann. “They need to win every game now to give themselves a chance (of making the quarter-finals) so it’s going to be a massive fight.
“These next three games are potentially going to play a big role on how the teams finish the season. So for a team like the Sharks, who’re in a must- win situation, there may be a change in style in the coming weeks. Where teams played with a more ‘openness’ before the break, they may be more closed now.
“Of course the time away from Super Rugby is likely to influence all the teams’ fluency and rhythm this weekend, so it’s going to be big for all the teams. I know we’re going to have to be switched on from the first minute. The Sharks are a quality side, with lots of experience, and we’re expecting anything and everything from them.”
While the visitors are without captain and flyhalf Pat Lambie, the Lions are also missing their skipper Warren Whiteley – two men who would otherwise play a major role in the outcome of what is expected to be a thrilling encounter.
Lambie’s replacement Garth April will face off with Elton Jantjies, who’ll be pumped up after a solid showing for the Springboks in the the series win over Ireland.
Deputising for Whiteley at No 8 will be Ackermann’s son, Ruan Ackermann.
Both teams have a host of Bok players in the ranks, but it is surely the Lions – the dominant South African team in Super Rugby this year – who have the edge.
They have the form players and have homeground advantage today, but a desperate Sharks team are never to be underestimated.
But the big question remains: Will the Lions simply continue where they left off, or will they struggle to find their rhythm after a month apart?
If they click, they’ll have too much power up front, and skill and pace at the back. But if the Sharks get among them and spoil their quick ball, Ackermann’s men may just be in for a battle. 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 (capt), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith. Bench: 16 Armand van der Merwe,17 Corne Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen,19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Sylvian Mahuza. Sharks: 15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 S’Bura Sithole, 13 JP Pietersen, Paul Jordaan, 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 (capt). Bench: 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). Kickoff: 5pm.