Lions to be at their best




Expect the Lions to be at their best yet this season when the play the Sharks in a Super 14 match at Ellis Park on Saturday.


The question is, however, whether this best will be enough for the high-riding Sharks squad with their star-studded bench.

Lions coach Eugene Eloff, this week told his players in no uncertain terms it was time to deliver. They came close against the Western Force two weeks ago, but squandered their chances.

They didn’t go in for the kill against a 14-man Bulls team because they didn’t stick to their structures and kicked away far too much possession.

Eloff gave his team a piece of his mind, and then left them to sort things out for themselves.

Some hard talking was done, and the air was cleared. Away are the thoughts of last year’s Currie Cup final and near win, their successful start to the 2007 Super 14 and their good start this season when they beat the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

The question on Saturday will be whether Jaco van Schalkwyk – the man for all seasons and all positions – will be able to control from flyhalf, something Louis Strydom couldn’t.

And with their lack of players of colour, Eloff again has to play with two wings who simply are not up to provincial or Super 14 standard. Rayno Benjamin and Dusty Noble will undoubtedly be exploited for their weakness under the high ball.

Opposite Van Schalkwyk will be Francois Steyn – brilliant at times, prone to judgement errors on others. Many don’t see him as a flyhalf as he doesn’t have the hand speed and quick reaction skills the flyhalf position demands.

He can, however, be a handful, and his attack on the gain line against another biggish flyhalf in Van Schalkwyk will be an interesting part of this match.

A “bridesmaid” who didn’t get much exposure until recently, Keegan Daniel has come into his own in the Sharks side under the new laws.

The tussle between two great sets of loose forwards – Daniel, Jacques Botes and Ryan Kankowski for the Sharks and Ernst Joubert, Cobus Grobbelaar and Joe van Niekerk for the Lions – will be a highlight and could have a major influence on the game.

The Lions will run it, that’s for sure. The Sharks would prefer to go that way too – and the two scrumhalves Jano Vermaak for the Lions and Rory Kockott are fiery, slippery characters who could be the catalysts in a rugby feast.

* The Bulls, after two defeats in four matches of which two were at home, must put a first overseas win behind them when they play the Reds on Saturday.

The Reds are not quite a force yet, but decidedly better than last year.

The Bulls should nevertheless win this match comfortably – but the question is whether they will do that in a structured way, keeping to a plan, and whether they will use their backs more as backline coach Pieter Rossouw wants them to do.

The team looked awesome as they outplayed the Lions to the tune of 17-0 after 30 minutes before a red card and also a yellow put halt to their expansiveness. One hopes they regain it on Saturday.

* The Cheetahs, with four losses from four, are up against it when they play the Crusaders in Christchurch. They will have gained confidence from their close loss against the Chiefs last week – but then, that has been the story of their season. The Crusaders, smarting from their near-loss last weekend to the Force, are at home, they are a class side and the log-leaders. It would be the season’s upset should the Cheetahs beat them.

* In the other match on Saturday, the Blues play at home and should be too strong for the Western Force – notwithstanding the fact the Force gave the Crusaders a hard time in Perth last weekend and the Blues lost against the Sharks, on tour in South Africa. The Force depends a lot on Matt Giteau, and somehow have threatened too often only to deceive to give them much of a chance. But it certainly won’t be one-way traffic for the Blues.

Saturday’s fixtures (SA times):

Blues v Western Force, 6.30am;
Crusaders v Cheetahs. 8.35am;
Reds v Bulls, 11,05am;
Lions v Sharks, 3pm

Sapa –

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