The Lions have a golden opportunity to win their first match at Loftus Versfeld in more than four years when their URC-strength team tackle the Bulls’ Currie Cup side in Pretoria on Saturday evening.
Their 49-35 win on March 3, 2018, gave the Lions a hat-trick of wins to start their Super Rugby campaign that year, and Swys de Bruin’s team would go on to contest the final against the Crusaders.
That was the last year of the De Bruin/Warren Whiteley golden era though and the Lions would now normally be the underdogs when they take on the Bulls, who have qualified for the United Rugby Championship quarterfinals, and have dominated local rugby with back-to-back Currie Cup crowns.
But the importance of securing a home quarterfinal in the URC – they will need to beat the Ospreys next Friday in Swansea to have a chance – means that squad of players has already begun preparations for that vital overseas match and Currie Cup coach Gert Smal has had to make do with the ‘second-stringers’.
The Lions, on the other hand, are out of URC contention and have chosen pretty much their best available team to try and gain their first Currie Cup win after nine straight defeats this season.
Smal believes the pressure will be on the visitors in Pretoria on Saturday.
“We have 27 players unavailable due to injuries and the URC team starting their preparation, while the Lions will bring their URC team,” Smal said on Friday.
“We want to put out the best team we can and play the best we can, but I think the pressure will be on the Lions. We knew it would happen at some stage and it’s just where we are right now.
“It’s the best team we could select and the Lions have been playing much better now than at the start of the competition. They like to play and they will test us in all areas,” Smal said.
Bulls need to keep in touch with Cheetahs
If the Bulls can cull a couple of bonus points from the game then it will keep them in touch with the Free State Cheetahs, who are expected to beat the Sharks in Bloemfontein, and still have a game in hand on Smal’s team.
While the Lions will field the exciting pairing of livewire scrumhalf Morne van den Berg and talented flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse, the Bulls have chosen a young and relatively untried halfback combination in Keagan Johannes and Juan Mostert, and there will be some uncertainty over their game management and what tempo of rugby the home side wants to play.
Bulls: James Verity-Amm, David Kriel, Stedman Gans, Marco Jansen van Vuren, Kabelo Mokoena, Juan Mostert, Keagan Johannes, Muller Uys, Reinhardt Ludwig, Jaco Labuschagne, Janko Swanepoel, Raynard Roets, Dylan Smith, Bismarck du Plessis, Lizo Gqoboka (capt). Bench: Sidney Tobias, Cebo Dlamini, Francois Kloppers, Ruan Delport, Stephan Smith, Bernard van der Linde, Diego Appollis, Richard Kriel.
Lions: Quan Horn, Stean Pienaar, Wandisile Simelane, Burger Odendaal (captain), Edwill van der Merwe, Jordan Hendrikse, Morne van den Berg, Francke Horn, Ruan Venter, Sibusiso Sangweni, Reinhard Nothnagel, Ruben Schoeman, Ruan Dreyer, Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole. Bench: PJ Botha, Heiko Pohlmann, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Cal Smid, Jarod Cairns, Andre Warner, Henko van Wyk, Tiaan Swanepoel.