Make or break for the Lions
Johannesburg - With the noose of finishing last in the Super Rugby series tightening around their necks, the Lions will throw down the gauntlet in the Jukskei derby against the Bulls in Johannesburg on Saturday.
The Lions have won only one of the six matches they have played this season.
Their Gauteng neighbours, on the other hand, have shown true grit, dispatching the Crusaders at Loftus Versfeld last weekend to pick up their fourth victory of the campaign.
Consistency in team selection has been the Bulls’ greatest ally this season, though they are a fairly young team compared to the last couple of years.
The Lions have an even greater tinge of green as a result of a plethora of injuries to their core group of experienced players.
Lions coach John Mitchell has been forced to make wholesale changes to his side on a weekly basis.
The Johannesburg-based side have found the going tough so far and it is unlikely to get any easier as they host a side that have come out tops in their last seven encounters.
While the scales might tip in the Bulls’ favour, Mitchell’s counterpart, Frans Ludeke, warned against the Lions’ never-say-die attitude.
“I think they are a quality side," Ludeke said.
"No-one has scored four tries against them. They play for 80 minutes and never go away.
“They were in some of the games until the last minute so we know it is going to be a big clash over the weekend, with no favours."
Ludeke expected a brutal clash against the Lions, who have shown solid work ethic in their matches.
“I don’t think there will be any surprises," he said.
"They want to keep the ball alive, and you could see all the teams they played against had to make a lot of tackles.
“The Stormers had to make 218 tackles so that is an indication of their ability to keep the ball and ask questions.
“So our defence must be spot on. There will be turnovers, and we must be accurate from opportunities, either from turnovers or opportunities from their half.”
Lineouts have been a chronic ailment for the Lions this season, which Mitchell has desperately tried to remedy.
The gamble to play unseasoned lock Paul Willemse in last week’s match against the Cheetahs backfired as the youngster retired hurt.
Stephan Greeff will now have the unenvious task of competing against the Bulls’ weathered locks.
Mitchell said his players were going through a process of introspection, learning lessons from recent experiences which would eventually lead to the required results.
“We have focused on ourselves, and clearly we actually have to learn lessons,” Mitchell said.
“We are probably dealing with how to work together at the moment and learning patience, which are two things we have struggled with in the last four weeks.
"A lot of that has probably come with change as a result of what we have experienced, but over time we will grab that and we will get a result.”