Lions want to call the shots
Lions coach Johan Ackermann knows his side have to dictate matters if they want to get the better of the Sharks in their table-topping clash on Saturday.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann knows his side have to dictate matters if they want to get the better of the Sharks in their table-topping clash.
Ackermann's side may be riding high on confidence after consecutive away wins over the battling Blue Bulls and Cheetahs which they engineered off scraps of possession, but the former Bok lock knows that they will have to be more dominant if they want to beat the Durban side and go clear at the top of the log this weekend.
Despite collecting ten log points in the last two weeks, the Lions coach has been frustrated with his team's lack of patience on both attack and defence, and he knows that the Sharks will make them pay if they are not more clinical.
He told this website: "The main thing is that we have to get a bit more ball this weekend and play a bit better to earn that possession.
"We need to keep our patience and look after the ball - we don't want to throw those 50/50 passes.
"When we defend we need to trust the defensive system and don't do something stupid and give away a penalty and give the opposition another opportunity to kick to the line-out and start all over again," he said.
Ackermann pointed to the Sharks' narrow victories over the Cheetahs and Western Province as evidence of their ability to play for 80 minutes, which means that his team will have to produce a more sustained effort rather than the flashes of brilliance which they have been relying on recently.
"It is a top-of-the-log game so the guys will be up for it and I think it will be an exciting match. They have squeezed out games like their win against the Cheetahs and even this last weekend [against Western Province] when they came from behind.
"They can play for the full 80 and that is what makes them so dangerous, so we have to start well and end well and be on focus for the full 80 minutes," he said.
The two teams met at the same venue in the final last year, so this match could have significance beyond just the log points on offer, and Ackermann was quick to point out that although they have a number of players with the Springboks, the Sharks are probably the most experienced team in the Currie Cup.
"I think they are a quality side and they are fortunate to have the likes of Keegan Daniel, Jean Deysel, Jacques Botes and Anton Bresler.
"Those are guys who played Super Rugby and some of those guys have played for years, I played with Jacques [Botes] and Keegan [Daniel] even when I was there.
"So they are quite a settled side regardless of the names that they have lost, at wing they have got a lot of experience and at fullback with Louis [Ludik], Meyer Bosman has been around the block so I think they are a very good side and a well-coached side and definitely one of the favourites of this year's Currie Cup, so we have got a lot of respect for them and we know it is going to be a big game," he said.
Having lost their last home game to the Griquas, the Johannesburg side are keen to reward their fans with a more consistent performance, but there are bigger issues at play than just the need to bounce back at home.
A victory over the Sharks will be a massive psychological boost which will give the defending champions some invaluable momentum heading towards the knock-out phase of the competition, and with so little to choose between the top sides that could prove vital to their title aspirations.
By Michael de Vries