Lions raising the play-off bar
Lions raising the play-off barSHARE
The Golden Lions may have been forced to take a different route, but coach Johan Ackermann is confident his team is raising the bar high enough ahead of their Super Rugby promotion-relegation games.
They face the Southern Kings on Friday, July 26 (in Port Elizabeth) and a week later (Friday, August 2 in Johannesburg).
While their planned tour to North American and encounters with several French Top 14 teams never materialised, Ackermann feels the quality of their game in the replacement fixtures are setting them up nicely for the play-offs.
They face Griquas at Ellis Park on Saturday in their final match before taking on the Kings later this month.
They have come through their 50-12 win over the Bulls last week relatively unscathed.
Some players have to go through the concussion protocol, but Ackermann is confident he will be able to field the same group that demolished the Bulls' back-up squad.
He will make a call later in the week about the players who were out injured last week.
"I doubt if players like Jaco [Kriel], Warren [Whiteley] and the others [scrumhalf Michael Bondesio and centre Alwyn Hollenbach] will be available this week," Ackermann told this website.
"We are almost certain to use the same group, unless I rotate a few players."
The Lions mentors described as "very positive" his team's performance against the Blue Bulls.
"It was one of our best games and was very happy with the quality of our game."
He added that the excitement is building ahead of their two-match series against the Kings.
"We all know what is just around the corner [the promotion-relegation matches on July 26 and August 2], but we are in that phase of uncertainty," he told this website.
"You think you are ready [for the play-offs], but you are not sure what to expect [of the opposition].
"There is a certain amount of excitement building up and the only way our preparation could have been better is if we had a higher quality of opposition for these matches.
'The guys are training hard and we are playing well in the games at this stage and hopefully that will be good enough when we get that chance."
The Lions' results this year:
Lions 51-13 Russia
Lions 33-17 Cheetahs
Lions 32-38 Bulls
Lions 41-31 Southern Kings
Lions 56-24 Mont-de-Marsan
Lions 74-14 Samoa
Lions 42-12 Western Province
Lions 33-29 Sharks
Blue Bulls 12-50 Lions
Lions v Griquas
* They also played their frontline selection in the latter stages of the Vodacom Cup competition-once it was confirmed that the North American tour and matches against the French teams were cancelled.
The Lions' results in the Vodacom Cup play-offs:
Final: Pumas 28-42 Golden Lions
Semifinal: Golden Lions 44-25 Western Province
Quarterfinal: Sharks XV 25-42 Golden Lions
By Jan de Koning