Currie Cup

Lions favourites against Sharks

2014-10-17 14:35
Johan Ackermann (Gallo Images)

Johannesburg - Earning the right to host their Currie Cup semi-final in emphatic style, the Golden Lions will be bullish about their chances when they face the Sharks at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday.

Although the Sharks were the defending champions, they faced a Lions side unbeaten at home this season, having meted out severe punishment to the visiting teams.

The Lions dazzled with their expansive play, scoring 44 tries - the most five-pointers by a side this season.

Playing at home and at altitude, the team's fitness would make them a tough nut to crack and the Sharks would want to slow down the hosts' ball.

While the Sharks made a poor start to their campaign, suffering defeats to the Griquas and Pumas, they had made a great resurgence. They go into the semi-final on the back of a four-match winning streak, including a 26-23 victory over the Lions in Durban after a late Fred Zeilinga penalty broke the deadlock.

Sharks coach Brad Macleod-Henderson said although his side had take confidence from that match, they were fully aware the Lions posed a tougher challenge at home and in a knockout match.

"We played some nice rugby when we beat them in Durban, but that counts for nothing now," Macleod-Henderson said.

"It's a new game, a new challenge, a new week and we are preparing accordingly. It's going to be a huge task going up to Ellis Park, but a challenge we're looking forward to.

"We will have to play for the full 80 minutes, defensively we need to be strong and our set-piece needs to function well."

In search of his first final as Lions' coach, Johan Ackermann said his side would be looking to make up for their defeat by the Sharks a fortnight ago.

"We haven't looked back further than the last two weeks - we obviously want to rectify the mistakes we made against them - then we looked at whether there was something new from their game against Western Province," Ackermann said.

He felt the Sharks had been improving in leaps and bounds, making them a difficult prospect for Saturday's clash.

"The big change came when they beat the Bulls at Loftus where they started to up their game and play good rugby," Ackermann said.

"It is a quality side. They put a lot of pressure in the lineouts and they've got a good scrum. If you look at the team as a whole, a lot of their players played Super Rugby.

"They've got the odd one or two new faces but it is still a good Super Rugby team and they are, therefore, a big challenge for us."

By virtue of the Sharks aiming for their fifth consecutive Currie Cup final appearance, they had proved their ability to perform in knockout matches.

The winner would face either Western Province or the Blue Bulls who would be battling it out in the second semi-final at Newlands in Cape Town immediately after the Ellis Park match.

Read more on:    lions  |  currie cup  |  johan ackermann  |  rugby

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