Ockert de Villiers - Sport24
Johannesburg - Lions coach Johan Ackermann has said that his team relished the opportunity to play against a star-studded Waratahs in Johannesburg on Saturday in a match that could easily be billed as the ‘Lions versus the Wallabies’.
The Sydney tourists have a host of Wallabies in their midst with the likes of Israel Folau, Kurtley Beale, Michael Hooper and Bernard Foley just to name a few that have international playing experience.
“They’ve been together for quite a while now and they’ve obviously been coached well and if you look at the number of Australian caps in that side it is almost like the Lions against Australia,” Ackermann said when summing up the challenge his charges would face.
“It is an Australian side with about 80 per cent players (that) have played for Australia and a lot of those players will be in the World Cup.
“So that is the challenge that lies ahead for us, but it is a great one for the players and for the team, against a quality side.”
If the pressure of facing the defending champions was not enough to contend with, the Lions could keep their hopes of reaching the playoffs alive with a victory over the visitors.
The Lions are in seventh place on the overall log with 36 points and with only two more matches left in their campaign, their fate is not entirely in their own hands even if they come out on top in both encounters.
Ackermann and Lions captain Warren Whiteley would not be drawn on their chances of reaching the playoffs - a topic they adamantly claim has never been discussed in the dressing room.
The Lions mentor rightly pointed out that a defeat this weekend would render talks of reaching the playoffs irrelevant.
Instead, the Johannesburg side will have to be at their best against a side that has some of the most dangerous attacking runners in the competition that includes the steamrolling Taqele Naiyaravoro on the wing.
“The Waratahs is a physical side, but they also like to play and expansive game, so they test you with their runners outside with players like Israel Folau and Kurtley Beale at 12, who likes to spread the ball and back himself,” Ackermann said.
Ackermann believed the Waratahs would be looking to start the match with great intensity and build some kind of buffer which they could defend in the second half, a tactic the Brumbies used to great effect in Johannesburg a fortnight ago.
“The whole first half will be massive. If we can be in the game at half-time it would be quite interesting to see where the game will go in the second half because then the altitude will set in as well as the travelling,” he said.
“I think that is what they will come and do, that is usually the tendency of teams travelling from the coastal areas, where they go out with a bang, put up the score and play (for) territory.
“That is what the Brumbies did well and we couldn’t get into their half, they kept us pinned down so you have to prevent that.
“We obviously have a plan of our own and hopefully that will work so that we can keep the pressure down.”
Kick-off for Saturday’s clash is scheduled for 19:10.
15. Andries Coetzee, 14. Ruan Combrinck, 13. Lionel Mapoe, 12. Harold Vorster, 11. Courtnall Skosan, 10. Elton Jantjies, 9. Faf de Klerk, 8. Warren Whiteley (captain), 7. Warwick Tecklenburg, 6. Jaco Kriel, 5. Franco Mostert, 4. Martin Muller, 3. Julian Redelinghuys, 2. Armand van der Merwe, 1. Schalk van der Merwe
Substitutes: 16. Malcolm Marx, 17. Corne Fourie, 18. Ruan Dreyer, 19. Robert Kruger, 20. Kwagga Smith, 21. Ross Cronje, 22. Marnitz Boshoff, 23. Stokkies Hanekom