Bulls could be a banana-peel for Lions’ play-off cam­paign

Mitchell’s men will be out for re­venge fol­low­ing an early-sea­son loss to Jukskei ri­vals

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

THE Lions are still very much in the run­ning in this year’s Su­per Rugby com­pe­ti­tion, aim­ing to book a place at home in the quarter-fi­nals with a win against the Bulls at El­lis Park to­day.

The Bulls, mean­while, are out of the hunt, but still have plenty to play for. Here rugby writ­ers Jac­ques van der Westhuyzen and Vata Ngob­eni look at what the two re­spec­tive coaches, Swys de Bruin and John Mitchell, will want to get out of the clash, but per­haps some of the play­ers, too.

Five boxes the Lions want to tick

It has come down to the fi­nal league game of the com­pe­ti­tion if Swys de Bruin and his men are to se­cure that all-im­por­tant home quarter-fi­nal. There’s a lot at stake as they look to go all the way to the fi­nal again – as they’ve done for the past two sea­sons. They will have to be ruth­less in their ap­proach though as the Bulls, and for­mer coach John Mitchell, will want noth­ing less than to up­set the odds.

The Lions have played bril­liantly in patches this sea­son but not quite put to­gether the com­plete, all-dom­i­nant per­for­mance. They have also al­lowed teams – like the Blues and Sun­wolves – to pro­duce scin­til­lat­ing fight­backs which have cost them at times. Also, last time out against the Sharks, they slip a lead, just to lose, so with the play­offs in mind, need to start fin­ish­ing teams off.

In­jury set the winger back this sea­son – which al­lowed team­mate Aphiwe Dyan­tyi to grab his chance and be­come a Bok star – but he is fit again and ready to show what he is made of. Skosan is an out­stand­ing fin­isher, hav­ing showed that on sev­eral occa- sions, and with a full Test sea­son be­hind him (2017) should not be for­got­ten by Rassie Eras­mus. He has a big chance to re­mind the Bok boss of his abil­i­ties to­day.

Many of the Lions’ stal­warts of the past five years are near­ing the end of their ca­reers at El­lis Park, among them Ruan Dreyer, Franco Mostert and pos­si­bly An­dries Coet­zee, Lionel Mapoe, El­ton Jan­tjies, Cyle Brink and Jac­ques van Rooyen, too, to go with the al­ready de­parted Rohan Janse van Rens­burg and Jaco Kriel so they’ll want to cre­ate some last­ing mem­o­ries for as long as the Lions stay in the com­pe­ti­tion.

The in­spi­ra­tional cap­tain has had an­other in­jury-in­ter­rupted sea­son, and hav­ing suf­fered with other prob­lems in the fi­nal stages of 2016 and 2017 will want to make sure he is fully fit on this oc­ca­sion. He re­turned to ac­tion two weeks ago but will want to step it up, at home, this week­end. A fir­ing White­ley will al­ways be a mas­sive boost for the Lions. He’ll also have his sights set on re­turn­ing to the Bok squad in a few weeks’ time.

Five boxes the Bulls want to tick

Play­ers come and go but few are like Bulls prop Pierre Schoe­man. He is the prankster and soul of the team. But this year the for­mer Affies pupil has lifted his game and been one of the stand­out play­ers of the cam­paign. It will be sad to see him leave to chase his dream of play­ing rugby in Scot­land and the Bulls will want noth­ing more than to give him a good send off.

The for­mer Junior Spring­bok will get a rare start at fly­half in the ab­sence of Spring­bok pivot Han­dre Pollard, and this will be yet an­other chance for him to show that he be­longs at this level. Lib­bok pos­sesses all the at­tributes to go all the way but is still wet be­hind the ears. But he faces the big­gest chal­lenge of his fledg­ling ca­reer at El­lis Park, against a strong and set­tled Lions team.

Un­der John Mitchell the Bulls have proven to be a try scor­ing ma­chine and that is what the for­mer All Blacks coach will want from his side to­day. As much as Mitchell wants noth­ing more than his side to emerge vic­tor- ious against the Lions, he has also been bru­tally hon­est about the style of rugby he wants and how des­per­ate he is to see his side score more tries than the op­po­si­tion.

There is a vast dif­fer­ence between the cur­rent Bulls team and what Mitchell had at his dis­posal at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son. Then he knew he had the per­son­nel to win any game but now with a de­pleted team due to sev­eral in­juries, the Bulls may lack the know-how to win. How­ever, they will still go out for the win to end their sea­son on a high and give hope of a bet­ter sea­son next year.

Re­venge will surely be at the back of the minds of the Bulls play­ers. It was the Lions who in­flicted on them their first home de­feat this sea­son with a 49-35 hid­ing that saw the Bulls spi­ral into a five match los­ing streak. There will be noth­ing bet­ter for the men in blue than to pay back the favour, es­pe­cially with the Lions in need of vic­tory to win the con­fer­ence and se­cure a home play-off berth.

BACKPAGEPIX

CHANCE TO SHINE: Court­nall Skosan and Manie Lib­bok will be key to their sides’ chances of vic­tory to­day.

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