Kings v Lions: Pressure mounts
Kings v Lions: Pressure mountsSHARE
The focus may be at the top end of the Super Rugby competition, but the pressure will be squarely on the last-placed Southern Kings.
The tournament rookies, who managed an unprecedented three wins and a draw (against the Australian conference-winning Brumbies), now go into a two-match promotion-relegation series against the Lions – the team they displaced in the competition this year.
The first leg of their play-off series are in Port Elizabeth on July 26, with the return match in Johannesburg on August 2.
The Kings will go into the game with the advantage of having played quality opposition all season and could be more 'battle-hardened' than the Johannesburg team.
In stark contrast the Lions had to reply on a mixture of Vodacom Cup, Super Rugby and second tier opposition – after their planned trip to North America fell through and almost all the French teams withdrew from the Lions Challenge series.
"Time will tell, but they definitely have the edge with the intensity that they're now used to playing," Lions coach Ackermann said after is team's final warm-up match – a 26-12 win over Griquas in Johannesburg at the weekend.
"I believe our players are good enough to lift themselves up to that intensity.
"It could be two games too far for them or they can be quite used to the intensity."
Ackermann said it would be difficult to say who would be under more pressure in the play-offs.
"They want to keep playing in the competition and they've had a taste for it," he said.
"We want to get back in it, we know how good it is.
"Both camps have tremendous pressure on them and I don't think either team has more or less pressure on them."
Ackermann hopes to have a host of his best players back for the promotion/relegation series.
At the top of the list is flyhalf Elton Jantjies, who has played for the Stormers the past season, but will be available for the Lions.
The availability of Jantjies, however, may not be the solution Ackermann is looking for as Marnitz Boshoff has fulfilled the No.10 role well for the Lions this year.
"The players that we mainly rely on that I would like to see back on the pitch is [scrumhalf] Michael Bondesio, [loose forwards] Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel and Derick Minnie, as well as [lock] Hendrik Roodt," Ackermann said.
"Then hopefully we'll get [lock] Franco van der Merwe [who was on loan to the Sharks] and Elton [Jantjies] fully fit back for us."
The Lions laboured against Griquas, battling to string phases together on attack but overall Ackermann was pleased with his charges.
"We showed that our scrum is still good but we must tick all the facets of the game and defensively there's still a bit to work on," he said.
Ackermann said his team needed to work on their ball retention as they lost too many balls in contact which robbed them of quick ball.
He admitted playing lower league opposition was a problem in the run on to the promotion matches.
"We had a different attitude against the Sharks and the Bulls and we saw it in the body language of the players," Ackermann said.
"This it was almost a case of just get this game over with, there's bigger games to come. We're not going to harp on too much about the game and we'll take the positives out of it and work on all areas."