Johannesburg - If the Golden Lions are to down the challenge of the Sharks this weekend in their Currie Cup semi-final, they will need their loose forwards to get on top.
The supersport.com website reports that it’s no secret that the free-running loose forwards have been a massive part of the Lions success this year, having their best Super Rugby season ever since getting back into the top flight and now they are one step away from what would be a wonderful achievement to get to the Currie Cup final.
After losing in the semi-finals in both 2012 and 2013, the Lions are hoping it will be third time lucky for them as they back their free flowing and exciting game plan to stop a star-studded Sharks side hell bent on getting rid of their Jake White hangover.
The Sharks did beat the Lions a few weeks ago, but that counts for little going into the playoff game, and the Lions know they will need to be at their best if they are to book a place in the final.
But key to their game plan is their loose trio.
From Springbok and captain Warren Whiteley’s free ranging role at 8 to the ever effective fetching duo of Jaco Kriel and Derrick Minnie, both who have been having excellent seasons so far.
On the bench whoever of Kwagga Smith, Willie Britz or Warwick Tecklenburg comes on always seems to boost the team with their presence, leaving very little to choose from between the starting trio and those on the bench.
And it tells on the stats. Jaco Kriel is the leading try scorer with eight this season and features regularly on several other stats lists for the season while the influence of his teammates cannot be underestimated.
In the end if the team gets going and the trio are allowed free reign, the Lions can be quite dangerous.
This season’s success, according to captain Whiteley, is mainly because the team has been pushing each other to succeed all season.
"We’re a tight bunch of guys, we’re great friends,"" Whiteley said.
"I think we’ve got a good mix with our loosies, especially with a guy like Kwagga coming in as a youngster.
"Willie (Britz) is always on my tail, and that’s important – the guys coming off the bench always seem to make a difference.
"It pushes the guys who are starting.
"I know I need to perform otherwise it the next guy will come on and I know he will make a difference.
"If you look at our whole bench, it is one of our strengths at the moment."
Whiteley knows the danger posed by the Sharks, who are on a bit of a run at the moment.
Having lost the two previous semi-finals, he wants his team to utilise their excitement of being in a semi and make it count.
"They beat us a few weeks ago, and they are the defending champions so there is a lot of motivation.
"Their setpieces are really strong and there’s a lot of motivation for us at the moment.
"They contest really well at the lineouts and we know how dangerous their backs can be with Sibusiso (Sithole) and Lwazi (Mvovo) there.
"They’ve also got Cobus Reinach back.
"It’s definitely going to be a tough game for us and we need to prepare well for this week.
"We’re excited; it’s always nice playing in a home semi in front of the home faithful."
The Lions biggest asset comes from their counter-attack, something they are one of the best in the business with, and special credit here goes to assistant coach Swys de Bruin.
As so many teams have found out over the years, if they cough up ball, the Lions will punish them.
But on Saturday, Whiteley says he doesn’t care really where the tries come from, as long as the Lions create enough opportunities to score them.”
“We will take any try as it comes, whether from set phases or counter attacking. Swys has done phenomenally with us, especially in terms of skills development.
"The guys have really developed throughout the year with the Lions, identifying space, and especially making space for others, he has definitely made a huge difference in the Lions team."
Whiteley is right when he says the Lions have done nothing yet, but given their form of late and considering what has happened to them in the last three years, the team has done superbly well.
A place in the final would suit them just fine.