Johannesburg - With a home semi-final still on the line, the Golden Lions have opted for their strongest possible starting XV ahead of their final round-robin match against the Free State Cheetahs at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Their 26-23 defeat to the Sharks in Durban last weekend left them having to defend their second-place position on the log against a Cheetahs side desperate for a playoff berth.
"It is kind of a knockout game for us because we want to play at home. The good thing is we don't' have to score four tries," Lions coach Johan Ackermann said at the team announcement in Johannesburg on Thursday.
"It is also a bit of comfort to know we are in a semi-finals but we can make it much more difficult on ourselves if we have to play away from home."
The Lions only need a victory over the Free State side to ensure a crucial home semi-final, while a defeat could possibly see them travel elsewhere for the playoffs.
The Johannesburg-based side suffered two serious injury blows to key personnel with fullback Andries Coetzee and centre Stokkies Hanekom ruled out.
The injuries forced Ackermann's hand to select Springbok flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff at fullback in Coetzee's place, while rising star Jaco van der Walt would don the number-10 jersey.
Howard Mnisi would have another bite at impressing in the midfield as inside replacement to Hanekom for Saturday's clash.
Meanwhile, the Lions welcomed the return of inspirational captain Warren Whiteley after his stint with the Springboks during the Rugby Championship.
Whiteley would move back into the side at the expense of Willie Britz, who shifted to the bench while Derick Minnie earned a starting berth in place of Warwick Tecklenburg.
Although the outcome could increase the Lions' chances of contesting for the Currie Cup title, Ackermann said the team did nothing different in the build-up to the clash.
"We haven't changed much. We stuck to the weekly routine, we didn't cut or add days," Ackermann said.
Whiteley said a victory would not only mean his side would host a semi-final but would be significant for them to gain some positive momentum ahead of the playoff.
"Confidence is always important. We definitely want that continuity going into the semi-finals -- all teams want that," he said.Teams:
15. Marnitz Boshoff, 14. Ruan
Combrinck, 13. Lionel Mapoe, 12. Howard Mnisi, 11. Courtnall Skosan, 10.
Jaco van der Walt, 9. Ross Cronje, 8. Warren Whiteley (captain), 7.
Derick Minnie, 6. Jaco Kriel, 5. Franco Mostert, 4. Martin Muller, 3.
Ruan Dreyer, 2. Robbie Coetzee, 1. Schalk van der Merwe
16. Armand van der Merwe, 17. Jacques van Rooyen, 18. Julian
Redelinghuys, 19. Willie Britz, 20. Warwick Tecklenburg, 21. Mark
Richards, 22 Harold Vorster
Free State Cheetahs
Clayton Blommetjies, 14 AJ Coertzen, 13 JP du Plessis, 12 Joubert
Engelbrecht, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Willie du Plessis, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8
Lappies Labuschagne, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys, 4
Lood de Jager, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Torsten van Jaarseveld (captain), 1
Substitutes: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 George
Marich, 18 Henco Venter, 19 Neil Claassen, 20 Shaun Venter, 21
Pieter-Steyn de Wet, 22 Maphutha Dolo