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