Super Rugby Match Preview
Saturday 14th July
Lions vs Bulls
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 15h05 local time, 13h05 GMT, 15h05 SA Time
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: AJ Jacobs, Stephan Geldenhuys
TMO: Christie du Preez
The Lions are staring at the barrel of a gun, if not quite looking down thatbarrel itself as they contemplate this game against the visiting Bulls. The barrel that they are taking a sneak-peak at is the one that says they might have to travel across the Indian Ocean for a quarterfinal playoff for the first time!
If they lose to the Bulls, and the Jaguares beat the Sharks, the Lions will slip below the Argentineans on the South African Conference log, and they will lose their right to host a quarterfinal!
They simply have to win, or hope the Jaguares lose or draw against the Sharks to ensure their quarterfinal hosting rights!
The Jaguares are just 3 points adrift of the Lions on the log, it is that close!
In fact, when the Lions take the field on Saturday they should line up as a guard of honour to express their gratitude to the Bulls for beating the Jaguares last weekend and preventing them from rising to the top of the South African Conference while the Lions were sitting at home on a bye weekend.
The Lions are masters of their own destiny.
Win, and they are safe and secure for another playoff at Ellis Park.
Lose, and they could be in some pretty deep water.
The Lions are in the throes of saying goodbye to a number of stalwarts, and they would like to say their farewells playing at Ellis Park as much as possible. Those that are leaving include Rohan Janse van Rensburg (to Sale Sharks), although the chunky centre is not in this week’s match day squad; prop Ruan Dreyer (Gloucester); lock Franco Mostert (Gloucester – although the Lions have disputed this); and flanker Jaco Kriel (Gloucester).
There is also speculation that fullback Andries Coetzee is off (Sale Sharks, Gloucester & Toulon); while prop Jacques van Rooyen (Bath) has also been linked to European clubs. Flyhalf Elton Jantjies, flank Cyle Brink and utility back Lionel Mapoe have also had talks about moving abroad.
Whatever the talk of players leaving, and whatever the speculation about the future may be, it is this weekend and this game that counts, right now.
The Lions would not want to travel in next week’s play-offs.
The Lions dropped Springbok Aphiwe Dyantyi for the returning wing Courtnall Skosan.
Skosan plays his first match this Super Rugby season. Dyantyi moves to the replacements bench.
Head coach Swys de Bruin has also included Nic Groom at scrum-half while Jacques van Rooyen comes in at loosehead.
Meanwhile, Springbok lock RG Snyman will lead the Bulls, replacing the injured Handré Pollard as captain.
Bulls boss John Mitchell has named Snyman as captain as a number of injuries hampered selection, ruling out regular captain Burger Odendaal and deputy Handre Pollard.
Winger Travis Ismaiel is fit again and returns to the team, with Divan Rossouw moving to the bench.
Mitchell has also tweaked the pack following their win over the Jaguares last weekend, with Jannes Kirsten moving to lock and Thembelani Bholi coming in at flank. Ruben van Heerden drops out of the matchday squad.
Manie Libbok and Ivan van Zyl will form the half-back combination. Three youngsters are set to be blooded in the competition as Johan Grobbelaar (hooker), Ruan Nortje (lock) and Boeta Hamman (fly-half) are all included on the bench and could make their tournament and Bulls debuts should they take to the field.
The Bulls have not had a great season in terms of wins and log points. They have won just 6 of their 15 starts so far. Oddly, their record against South African teams is much better than their average across all opponents, with a 75 percent win record against their countrymen.
They seem to enjoy the local derbies far more than they like games away from the country.
The Lions’ Swys de Bruin has picked a powerful side for this encounter, as they look to secure the win and the rights to hosting their quarterfinal.
The Bulls have again been disrupted by injury as they take on the Lions without Handré Pollard. It would have been interesting to see Pollard facing Elton Jantjies, but that is, sadly, not going to happen this week.
Last week the Bulls produced some very effective line-speed on defence to shut down the Jaguares, especially depriving flyhalf Nicholas Sanchez of time and space, and they will know that their opposition this week have a flyhalf that does not like that kind of pressure at all.
They will certainly be focussed on shutting down Elton Jantjies and his midfield at every opportunity.
They will, unfortunately, miss Handré Pollard’s leadership in the defensive rush, with Manie Libbock still a relative rookie with much to prove. Can he shut Jantjies down effectively?
The Bulls are a kicking team, ranked first for making the most kicks per game this season, with an average of 21 per game, and they will need to be very aware of the accuracy of their kicks, there is no point in feeding a dangerous Lions backline that will counter-attack at every opportunity.
The Lions have one huge advantage over the Bulls, and that is at the breakdowns where Kwagga Smith, Cyle Brink and Warren Whiteley will be a handful. The former two have achieved a turnover count in excess of 8 per game in 2018.
The Bulls’ lineout drives have been one of their best weapons in the 2018 season, although they seemed wary of using it against the Jaguares last week. They simply have to get those legs driving against the Lions. They will need to be on top form against a Lions outfit that is equally as good on the drive, especially with Marx back on the field.
It is likely to be a hard, physical encounter, with massive hits and a bit of niggle too. That always happens when close neighbours play each other.
The Lions are on their worst run of form since 2015, having lost four of their previous six, including a 31-24 defeat to the Sharks in their last fixture a fortnight ago. They will be fresh after a week off.
Meanwhile, the Bulls lost their previous three against the Jaguares, Brumbies and Sunwolves before coming back to beat the Argentine side with a solid 43-34 victory last weekend in Pretoria.
The Lions know they have to win this one. They will not need more motivation than that.
The Lions by 7.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Johannes Jonker, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Marnus Schoeman/Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 23 Howard Mnisi/Shaun Reynolds
Bulls: 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Travis Ismaiel, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Johnny Kotze, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 RG Snyman (c), 4 Jannes Kirsten, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Matthys Basson, 18 Mornay Smit, 19 Ruan Nortje, 20 Nick de Jager, 21 5 Embrose Papier, 22 Boeta Hamman, 23 Divan Rossouw