Wikus in Lions starting pack
Wikus van Heerden (Gallo Images)
Johannesburg - Lions coach John Mitchell made only one change to his starting line-up as the hosts head into their do-or-die Absa Currie Cup clash with the Sharks at Coca-Cola Park on Saturday.
Mitchell announced his team on Thursday and, apart from an injury enforced change, the Lions are arguably the team that has shown the greatest continuity in team selection in the last month.
With young No 8 Warren Whitely still recovering from concussion, local favourite and former Springbok Wikus van Heerden has been promoted from the bench and will make his first start of the season in the No 7 jersey.
Former Maties player Josh Strauss moves from flank to cover the vacant eighthman position.
On the bench the versatile Deon van Rensburg was preferred to Marius Delport, with Trevor Hall taking up the spot Van Heerden previusly filled.
Having come so close to extending a winning streak to six matches when they faced the Blue Bulls last week, Mitchell is confident his side will rise to the challenge against the log leaders.
"We have said all year that our priority is to win and we are clearly going into this match to do exactly that," Mitchell warned.
"We are up for it, we're organised and we want to play football."
The Lions haven’t beaten the Sharks since 2007, and if they secure a victory on Saturday they will remain in the running for a place in the semi-finals.
Mitchell said the Sharks should under no circumstances underestimate his charges.
"We enjoy playing at home and it is something to note that in the last five or six weeks we have been scoring 30-plus points at home, so our approach will be no different come the weekend," said Mitchell.
The former All Blacks coach said he had a good idea of what to expect from the visitors and he emphasised that his forwards would have to keep close tabs on impressive campaigners like Ryan Kankowski, Craig Burden and Keegan Daniel.
"I think they are a side that play, and they’re encouraged to go into space, but when they get untidy they’ll just be blunt and carry it up field," Mitchell said.
"They are a very well balanced forwards pack in the sense that they can be blunt and direct but they can also play football."
There is also a bit more at stake in this contest than what meets the eye.
Mitchell and Sharks coach John Plumtree grew up in the same area in New Zealand, and since becoming world class coaches they have been playing for the Hawera Cup.
Mitchell, however, insisted that his personal contest with Plumtree would not been as important as it may have been in other games.
"Out of all the previous contests I think it is the least we have talked about it, so I guess now that I am established as a Lions man we are competitors on the weekend and our personal goals are probably irrelevant," he said.
"He (Plumtree) did send me an sms asking if I noticed their scrum," Mitchell admitted later on.
15 Jaco Taute, 14 Jannie Boshoff, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Doppies La Grange, 11 Michael Killian, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Joshua Strauss, 7 Wikus van Heerden, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe (capt), 4 George Earle, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Wayne Swart, 18 Johan Snyman, 19 Trevor Hall, 20 JP Joubert, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Deon van Rensburg