The Lions will be looking to secure a home play-off when they meet local rivals the Bulls in a Super Rugby derby at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The Lions, who will be fresh coming off a bye week, have won the last three encounters between the sides. They must win or hope the Jaguares lose or draw at the Sharks, with the Argentine side three points behind the Lions and breathing down their neck.
In fact, the Lions have the Bulls to thank for beating the Jaguares last weekend and preventing them from rising to the summit of the South African Conference while the Lions were taking a break.
The Bulls have won 33 percent of games against all opposition in total this season but have fared much better against those in their conference, boasting a 75 percent win record against South African opposition and seem to rise to the occasion of a local derby with relish.
Handre Pollard will be a big miss, however, with a lot of responsibility placed on Manie Libbok’s shoulders but at least Travis Ismaiel has returned from injury to take up his position on the right wing.
Meanwhile, surprisingly Aphiwe Dyantyi has been dropped at the benefit of Courtnall Skosan for the Lions, while Nic Groom is preferred over Ross Cronje in the number nine jersey. Dyantyi is the man in possession of the Bok shirt once owned by Skosan so it is an intriguing tweak.
If the Bulls are to thwart the Lions, they will need to nullify their threat at the breakdown. The Lions have won 8.4 turnovers per game this season, more than any other team in the competition.
The Bulls have made the most kicks out of hand per game this season, while the Lions are on the opposite end of the scale. But the Bulls are unlikely to kick as much ball away as they will be wary of a dangerous Lions backline.
The last time the teams met: The Lions got on the scoresheet through tries from Ruan Dreyer, Jacques van Rooyen, Marvin Orie, Malcolm Marx, Sylvian Mahuza, Ross Cronje while Elton Jantjies kicked all six conversions with a flawless performance off the tee in a 49-35 win earlier this year. The Bulls scored through tries from Jonny Kotze, Handre Pollard, Lizo Gqoboka and Travis Ismaiel.
Players to watch:
For Lions: As mentioned above, the Lions are the best pilferers of ball in the competition, effecting 8.4 turnovers per game, the most of any team in the competition and Malcolm Marx has won the most turnovers of anyone in the Lions side. On top of that, he has scored seven tries while he boasts the highest line-out throwing percentage in the competition (89 percent).
For Bulls: In the absence of regular inside centre and captain Burger Odendaal, Jonny Kotze has come off the wing to do a wonderful job at 12 for the men from Pretoria. He has a low centre of gravity and hits the line hard, which makes him difficult to bring down. Kotze also has that ability to create space for his team-mates with a clever pass or offload.
Team news: The Lions have been boosted by the return from injury of wing Courtnall Skosan.
Skosan plays his first match this Super Rugby season and takes the place of Aphiwe Dyantyi, who this week 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 as the Lions look for a victory that would secure top spot in the South African Conference. They could however still finish top if the Jaguares lose at the Sharks.
Meanwhile, Springbok lock RG Snyman will lead the Bulls. 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 return to the team though, 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.
Meanwhile, 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.
Finally, Mitchell challenged the squad to deliver one more performance to be proud of in this Jukskei derby.
“I asked the team for an extraordinary performance to close the season out. The other option is to just settle for an easy way to end the season, but that is not who we are as a team.”
Form: 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.
Meanwhile, the Bulls had lost their last three against the Jaguares, Brumbies and Sunwolves before avenging that defeat to the Argentine side with a 43-34 victory last weekend in Pretoria.
Prediction: The hosts to send off their faithful on a positive note. Lions by 10.
2018: Lions won 49-35 in Pretoria2017: Lions won 51-14 in Johannesburg2016: Lions won 56-20 in Pretoria2015: Bulls won 35-33 in Pretoria2015: Lions won 22-18 in Johannesburg2014: Lions won 32-21 in Johannesburg2014: Bulls won 25-17 in Pretoria2012: Bulls won 32-18 in Johannesburg
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 RooyenReplacements: 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 SchoemanReplacements: 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
Date: Saturday, July 14Venue: Ellis Park, JohannesburgKick-off: 15:05 local (14:05 BST, 13:05 GMT)Referee: Marius van der WesthuizenAssistant Referees: AJ Jacobs, Stephan GeldenhuysTMO: Christie du Preez
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