2009-08-15 00:00

WHILE the patched-up Sharks have surprised friend and foe with the quality of their rugby in recent weeks, no one quite knows what to expect from the Lions, their opponents in this evening’s Currie Cup match at Ellis Park.

The title-holding Sharks lost their Currie Cup opener against Western Province at Newlands and a pall of gloom descended on the province, but they have since shown dramatic improvement with particularly good wins over the Blue Bulls and Free State to climb to second place on the log.

The next fortnight will be crucial in their Currie Cup campaign and victory this weekend, and next Saturday over the log-leading Griquas, would take their below-strength team to the top of the heap. With their 10 Springboks returning for the last four games — against Free State (h), Leopards (h), Lions (h) and Griquas (a) – they would then be well placed to challenge for a home semi-final.

In contrast, the Lions have been picking their way through a season of controversy and change, record defeats and the sacking of genial coach Loffie Eloff.

But they are a Super 14 outfit playing at home and Sharks head coach John Plumtree is wary.

“The Lions have some very good players, a big pack and they will be desperate to win at home.”

But the Sharks coach is satisfied with the progress being made by his young players who have been boosted today by the inclusion of three Bok squad members, Odwa Ndungane, Ryan Kankowski and Jannie du Plessis.

“They have surprised a lot of people by stepping up and showing they can win without our Springboks,” said Plumtree.

The Lions have loaded their squad with fetchers — there are two flanks in American Todd Cleaver and Derick Minnie on the bench — and they hope to outplay the Sharks at the breakdown where their loose trio of Cobus Grobbelaar, Franco van der Merwe and the massive Willem Alberts are up against the Kankowski, Jacques Botes and Jean Deysel.

The Lions also have several dangerous attackers with a try-poaching scrumhalf in Jano Vermaak, Earl Rose — if he is in the mood — and Henno Mentz, who will want to prove a point against his old team-mates.

New Lions coach Hans Coetzee said the Lions had to show that they were moving forward but admitted his players had a mountain to climb.

“The Sharks are second on the log, they are the champions and they have very good momentum.”

They also have an even spread of enthusiastic talent through the team and, if the forwards can ease the pressure on the relatively untested halfback pairing of Monty Dumond and Charl Mcleod, they should come away with a valuable away win.


Sharks: Stefan Terblanche (capt.), Odwa Ndungane, Andries Strauss, Riaan Swanepoel, Lwazi Mvovo, Monty Dumond, Charl McLeod, Ryan Kankowski, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes, Albert van den Berg, Steven Sykes, Patrick Cilliers, Craig Burden, Deon Carstens.

Reserves: Skipper Badenhorst, Jannie du Plessis, Michael Rhodes, Keegan Daniel, Ross Cronje, Guy Cronje, Waylon Murray.

Lions: Earl Rose, Dusty Noble, Alwyn Hollenbach, Doppies la Grange, Henno Mentz, Herkie Kruger, Jano Vermaak, Willem Alberts, Franco van der Merwe, Cobus Grobbelaar (capt.), Willem Stoltz, Nico Luus, Gert Muller, Hans van Dyk, JC Janse van Rensburg.

Reserves: Derek Harwood, Kevin Buys, Wouter Moore, Todd Clever, Derek Minnie, Pieter Engelbrecht, Ruan Boshoff.

Kick-off: 5.05pm - live on M-Net, CSN and M-Net HD

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan.

• In other matches today, unbeaten Griquas face the Blue Bulls in Kimberley (3 pm) and Boland are at home to Western Province (3 pm).

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