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Preview: Sharks v Lions

Preview: Sharks v Lions

The Sharks and Lions are all set to end off their regular seasons with a humdinger in Durban with both teams naming their strongest possible starting XVs, despite having already booked their play-off spots.

With little to play for at this stage, many would have thought Sharks boss Robert du Preez would have saved his best players for the knockout games, while giving the rest of the squad a chance to impress, and maybe get some games under their belts, especially with the Currie Cup starting in just under a month’s time.

Lions coach Johan Ackermann meanwhile, clearly has his heart set on finishing top of the overall standings but will of course need the Hurricanes to do them a favour and beat the Crusaders earlier on Saturday.

Du Preez’s men meanwhile were not at their best against the Bulls two weeks ago, and the former Springbok scrum-half will be looking for a reaction from his charges against a well oiled Lions outfit.

Without the injured Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel retains the captaincy, as the Lions, who have already secured the conference title, look to boost their confidence ahead of the play-offs.

They have beaten the Sharks in each of their last four meetings, after winning just twice in 13 meetings prior (D1, L10). However, the Sharks have won their final regular season game in each of their last seven campaigns, winning their last five such fixtures by an average margin of 24 points.

But beating the in-form Lions will be a difficult ask as the Jo’burg side have now won 11 games in a row since a 12-point loss to the Jaguares in Round 3, and have scored 199 points in their last three games combined.

The last time the teams met: The Lions managed to win an entertaining game by the smallest of margins in Johannesburg just over two months ago. Both Elton Jantjies and Curwin Bosch exchanged a number of kicks to keep the scores ticking, but the men from Jo’burg managed to outscore the Durbanites by three tries to two, and seal a famous 34-29 win. The two teams dished up what has possibly been the most entertaining local derby in ages, and hopefully Saturday’s clash at the Shark Tank will be as fun to watch.

Players to watch:

For Sharks: It was Jake White who first tried Lwazi Mvovo at full-back back in 2014, and the diminutive back has impressed whenever he’s been given the number 15 jersey. Mvovo is solid under the high ball, making him a man you’d want to have as the last line of defence, and his attacking abilities make him dangerous with the ball at hand. Thomas “the Tank” du Toit will be looking to impress in the absence of Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira. Down in Durban, the Tank is seen as the man most likely to take over from the Beast. The Sharks have tried to mould the former Baby Bok into a tighthead, but that experiment has been ditched as he’s played his best rugby when he’s been in the number one jersey.

For Lions: The Lions have quality all over the field, and on the bench. They of course have the likes of Courtnall Skosan, Ruan Combrinck and Elton Jantjies, who have been in sublime form recently, and who always look like scoring tries. But, Malcolm Marx, the current incumbent Bok number two, should continue in the rich vein of form he has been showing this season. The battle between Marx and Chiliboy Ralepelle, who has also been putting his hand up recently, should be an intriguing one. If Marx, Ruan Dreyer and Jacques van Rooyen can get an upper hand against the Sharks’ star studded front row, the Lions will have won half the battle.

Team news: Mvovo moves to full-back to give the Sharks much needed speed in attack and defence, with the prodigiously talented Bosch dropping down to the bench. Lukhanyo Am returns to play alongside regular partner Andre Esterhuizen in the midfield, with Kobus van Wyk shifting to the right wing. An injury to loosehead legend Mtawarira means Du Toit starts in his place. Springbok Stephan Lewies will play his 50th Super Rugby game for the Durban-based outfit.

After an impressive season last year which saw him make his debut in the green and gold, 2017 has been a nightmare for centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg, who hurt his knee in the early rounds, and missed up to three months of rugby. But the 22-year-old, having featured in the SuperSport Rugby Challenge, returns to the team and will play off the bench with Ackermann opting the combination of Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe in midfield.

Form: The Sharks started the season well, but regular dips in form saw them lose games they should not have lost. They’ve blown hot and cold this season, and will be looking to use this game to build up enough momentum to help them in the play-offs. They didn’t do themselves any favours at all, and will struggle in the play-offs. One week they are capable of beating the Stormers, and they lose to the Kings the next. The Kings Park faithful will not be confident of a win come game time, Against the Lions, the Sharks have been abysmal in recent years. They last beat the Jo’burg side in 2015, and have lost the last four between the two teams.

Prediction: The Sharks will push the Lions all the way, but fall short in the end. Lions by 8.

Previous results:

2017: Lions won 34-29 in Johannesburg

2016: Lions won 37-10 in Johannesburg

2016: Lions won 24-9 in Durban

2015: Lions won 23-21 in Johannesburg

2015: Sharks won 29-12 in Durban

2014: Sharks won 25-12 in Johannesburg

2014: Sharks won 37-23 in Durban

2012: Lions won 38-28 in Johannesburg

The teams:

Sharks: 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 S’busiso Nkosi, 10 Garth April, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt (c), 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit

Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Jean Droste, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Jeremy Ward

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Kwagga Smith, 6 Jaco Kriel (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen

Replacements: 16 Akker vd Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza

Date: Saturday, July 15

Venue: Growthpoint Kings Park, Durban

Kick-off: 17:15 local (15:15 GMT)

Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen

Assistant Referees: AJ Jacobs, Cwengile Jadezweni

TMO: Johan Greeff

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