Jan de Koning expects a testy game
The Lions set off on the next part of a six-month journey to regain their Super Rugby status when they host struggling French outfit Mont-de-Marsan in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Given the mockery and abuse hurled at them by some schmuck members of the media - that assemblage who always revel in the demise of South African teams - you would have thought there is no purpose to this game.
But only those unable to see the bigger picture will nitpick and point out the poor quality of the opposition.
Yes, Mont de Marsan - also referred to as Stade Montois - are bottom of the Top 14 standings on 15 points - 12 points behind Agen, the team closest to them in the relegation zone.
Mont-de-Marsan have played 21, won just two and lost 19 of their league matches. They look certain for relegation to the Pro D2 section next season.
However, for Lions coach Johan Ackermann there is a bigger picture.
He is systematically building a squad that can beat the last-placed South African franchise in a series of promotion-relegation matches and thus regain their place in Super Rugby next year.
That is why the Lions have started this challenge series against some lesser teams. It got underway against Russia (winning 51-13), then followed a few Super Rugby teams - the Cheetahs (a 33-17 win), the Bulls (a 32-38 loss) and the Southern (a 41-31 victory).
The next stage of their journey will see them play the French strugglers, Mont de Marsan, before they head off on a two-match tour that will see them take on the North American All Stars in California and Vancouver.
For Ackermann it is all about building towards the BIG matches in August.
That is why the Lions will look to continue from where we left off against the Kings last month.
"We want to play an entertaining and good brand of rugby," Ackermann told this website, when asked about his goals for Saturday.
"We still have lots of work to do on our defence.
"If we can improve on those two aspects, we will do well."
Asked if victory over the French outfit was important, given the play-offs in August, the Lions coach was adamant that winning remained very important.
"We still want to do well [in terms of the result] and it is a South African team against a French team - it is an 'international' game for us and we want to make South Africa and our supporters proud.
"It is also part of the Lions Challenge and we have lost just one game [in four starts] in the Lions Challenge and we are determined to keep that record intact, which makes it important to win."
The Lions mentor said that while most French teams have a very physical edge to their game, he expected Saturday's visitors to be expansive.
"Given that they are coming out of a very wet [winter in] France, we suspect they might want to give the ball a bit more air."
Prediction: Mont de Marsan features four South Africans, so the game could get testy. Flank Lodie Britz, lock Bêrend Botha and hooker Piet Grobler are the South Africans in the starting XV, with utility forward Vickus Liebenberg on the bench. However, this Lions team looks to have too much class for a French team likely to battered and bruised at the end of a long-hard French season. The Lions should win by 15 points or more.
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 JP du Plessis, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Derek Minnie, 7 JJ Breet, 6 Warwick Tecklenburg, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg (captain).
Replacements- from: Francois du Toit, Jacques van Rooyen, Gavin Annandale, Jaco Kriel, Guy Cronje, Lionel Cronje, Alwyn Hollenbach, Ruhan Nel, Deon Helberg, Julian Redelinghuys.
Mont-de-Marsan: 15 Yoan Durquet, 14 Jean-Marc Mazzonetto, 13 Baptiste Chedal, 12 Daniele Baleinadogo, 11 Zimum Lucu, 10 Benat Arrayet, 9 Arnaud Pic, 8 Alexandre Ricaud, 7 Lodie Britz, 6 Julien Tastet, 5 Bêrend Botha, 4 Scott Murray, 3 Sebastien Ormaechea, 2 Piet Grobler, 1 Alexandre Menini.
Replacements - from: Julien Janaudy, Pierre Correia, Vickus Liebenberg, Yann Brethous, Julien Cabannes, Thibault Duvallet, Martin Jagr, Mathieu Giudicelli, Vasssili Bost, Jean-Baptiste Dubie.
Date: Saturday, March 16
Venue: Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 19.30 (17.30 GMT)
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa), Sieg van Staden (South Africa)
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)
By Jan de Koning