The Star Late Edition
Lions cannot afford to be passive against the Cheetahs
THINGS are not yet desperate for the Lions in the Currie Cup, but they can ill afford continuing on a downward trajectory when they face the table-topping Free State Cheetahs tomorrow (1pm kick-off).
The Lions could arguably have felt aggrieved after their last match in the competition, when they narrowly lost to Griquas 25-21 in Kimberley.
Early injuries in that match, including to the in-form flyhalf Gianni Lombard, certainly did not help their rhythm.
They were perhaps also a bit too passive at times in defence, allowing the Griquas to run at them at pace, creating a plethora of options on attack.
The Lions will have to be far more pro-active in the contact point this time around by driving their opponents backwards, instead of riding the tackle.
Nonetheless, the loss ensured that the Lions’ Cup season is now perilously close to imploding and narrows the margin for error in the remaining five matches of the pool stages.
The Lions are currently sixth in the standings on 20 points, three points adrift of the Griquas, who occupy the final semi-final spot in fourth, and who face the Bulls tomorrow.
Travelling to Bloemfontein and beating the Cheetahs will be no mean feat.
The Cheetahs have only lost twice so far this season – to the Pumas and most recently the Sharks.
Moreover, the Lions have already lost to the men from Bloem earlier this season after the Cheetahs dished out a lesson in rugby in April with a 52-15 drubbing at Ellis Park.
The Lions team that they face this weekend, however, should be more formidable as Mziwakhe Nkosi continues to introduce the franchise squad to the premier domestic competition.
Despite the loss to the Griquas, there were some good performances that should carry over to the clash against the Cheetahs.
JC Pretorius had another excellent outing on the day.
The flank scored a try, but it was his work in defence that was especially noteworthy. He made 17 tackles and more importantly, five turnovers, as he terrorised the breakdown.
His fellow forwards Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Ruben Schoeman and Emmanuel Tshituka also made some impressive plays in attack and defence, and will hopefully be selected again to continue their efforts.
The backline was arguably the weakness last weekend, especially after the departure of Lombard and Tiaan Swanepoel’s move into the No 10 channel.
If Lombard fails to make the game, then perhaps installing Vaughen Isaacs back at flyhalf will be the better option.
The introduction of Sanele Nohamba to the starting XV has hopefully also been considered.
Morné van den Berg hasn’t been bad, but he perhaps lacks a bit of confidence and some accuracy that the zippy Nohamba could provide.
If Lombard is out, then Nohamba’s presence could get the backline ticking over again, while also ensuring that a point-scoring option is opened.
The Cheetahs come off a fantastic victory, former Springbok and captain Ruan Pienaar leading the charge in a thrilling 26-21 triumph over Western Province.
The Lions, therefore, must throw everything they’ve got at the Free State to stick the landing and stay in the Cup fight.
The team will be announced today.