Lions roaring and ready
If there was the notion the Lions would ease back into Super Rugby by resting their large Springbok contingent against the lowly Sunwolves at the weekend, coach Johan Ackermann emphatically banished it yesterday.
Ackermann assembled his best available team as they hope to stay in touch with the pace-setting Crusaders as the league stages of Super Rugby nears climax.
But the Stormers have rested Springbok captain Eben Etzebeth and franchise skipper Siya Kolisi, giving SA Under-20 star Damian Willemse his first start for their match against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein today.
Willemse, who made an elegant step up in performance at the recent Under-20 World Championships in Tbilisi, will have a chance to audition for the Stormers' starting flyhalf berth for the remainder of the campaign.
First-choice flyhalves Jean-Luc du Plessis and Rob du Preez have both sustained season-ending injuries, opening the door for Willemse to stake his claim.
Regular Lions captain Warren Whiteley and inside centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg are injured, but scrumhalf Ross Cronjé is fit again after he missed the third Test against France.
In Whiteley's absence the team will be captained by Jaco Kriel.
Whiteley's spot goes to Ruan Ackermann and Kriel and Kwagga Smith will pack down on the side of the scrum.
Whiteley will leave a huge void.
"There is only one Warren Whiteley," Ackermann said. "Obviously what he brings to the side is special.his leadership and the work that he gets through as a number eight.
Ackermann's decision to go guns blazing this week was partially influenced by the Lions having their second bye next week.
The coach is hoping his side can quickly pick up where they left off before the competition yields to the Test window.
"All these guys were involved either with the Boks, SA A or our team in the SuperSport Challenge. The Boks are on a high in terms of confidence.
"My challenge to them is to play at that level. The same hunger and desire. We are still in this competition. Hopefully we can get the momentum back soon and keep pressure on the Crusaders."
Although he is desperate to finish as high on the points table as possible, Ackermann isn't too fussed about the minor details on the full points table. For him its all about accruing wins.
"The points difference won't play a role," he said. "We'll either be one, two or three.If we keep on winning we are going to challenge for that top spot. If the Crusaders keep winning we will hopefully finish second. We still want to play our same brand of rugby. We aren't too worried about the log now."