Johannesburg – Just 33 days ago last year’s punching bag in Vodacom Super Rugby came close to beating the champions.
On Saturday, the two sides – the Lions and Bulls – will become the first teams to meet in a second league match in the new Super Rugby format.
The duel at Loftus comes at a time where winning has become a matter of urgency for both sides.
Since the last Jukskei Derby, the Lions have lost three games and the Bulls two, with both teams at the receiving end the past weekend.
What the teams will remember from 33 days ago is that it was a game of two halves. The Bulls dominated the first half and built a big lead. Then the Lions attacked throughout the second half and almost caught up with the Bulls.
Lions forwards coach Johan Ackermann said that indications were there in the previous Jukskei Derby that the Lions could beat the Bulls.
“We always give ourselves a good chance, and want to win and be competitive. The Bulls are still a terrific side full of Springboks and the game is at Loftus. But I think we saw enough (in the previous game) to believe we can win,” said Ackermann.
The former Springbok lock would have taken encouragement from his side getting 62% of the possession in the previous meeting between the sides. But that does not help much if you still lose.
The Lions have been guilty thus far of not converting their possession into the necessary points. Finishing will be very important at Loftus.
It was not just against the Bulls that the Lions had the majority of the possession. It was also the case against the Stormers (54%), the Blues (62%) and the Force (51%), but they lost against all three opponents.
They did, however, utilise their 55% possession against the Cheetahs and won the game.
What the statistics also indicate is that teams can win games with effective defence. The Lions have in all their defeats thus far been unable to convert their many attacking opportunities into points.
Ackermann said it was clear against the Force that the Lions lost momentum with critical errors, even after they had taken the lead.
“It was disappointing. One probably expects to have a downward curve again at some stage, but we did not expect it to happen after a victory (over the Cheetahs). It just goes to show how much work there is left to do with this bunch of players before they can achieve on a weekly basis.”
Now the Bulls are in the Lions’ sights and it’s not even necessary to make the point of how much a victory would mean to the Lions.
“But the Bulls are wounded and that makes them dangerous. We’ll have to be very accurate,” said Ackermann.