Preview: Lions v Southern Kings
There will be no place to hide when the Lions and Kings go head-to-head in the decisive second match of their promotion-relegation series.
There will be no place to hide and no margin for error when the Lions and Southern Kings go head-to-head in the decisive second match of their promotion-relegation series.
With so much at stake at Ellis Park on Saturday - Super Rugby status in 2014 is the reward for the winner - a packed Ellis Park will indeed provide a Test match atmosphere.
It has been said repeatedly the past fortnight, but the losers will forfeit more than just their status - there will be a pillaging of their frontline players, sponsors will reduce their 'disbursements' or even disappear altogether and most of all spectators will be 'scarce'.
As they say in the classics: 'To the victors the spoils go.'
It is thus not surprising the two teams have not spoken much about 'entertaining', but constantly made reference to 'conquer, prevail and triumph'.
As Kings Director of Rugby Alan Solomons pointed out this week, these games so often turn on little things - just one little error or failing to take your opportunities.
The Kings, who start with a seven-point deficit and must win by at least eight points to retain their Super Rugby status, will hope to avoid the lapses that saw the Lions take control of match one in Port Elizabeth last week.
The Kings this week focussed on making sure they take their opportunities and prevent the Lions from scoring through soft moments in the game.
"They got a try [just before half-time], which was actually a 14-point turnaround, as I felt we would have gotten a try," Solomons told this website during the build-up to Saturday's big game.
"They were struggling for territory and possession in that first half and they got it [the intercept try] in the 38th minute. No doubt that assisted them in the match," the Kings boss added.
He spoke of "cutting errors to the bone" and avoiding situations that will again give the Lions momentum - such as Nicolaas Hanekom's intercept try last week.
"I feel that made a big difference," Solomons said, adding that the Super Rugby semifinal in between the Chiefs and Crusaders in Hamilton also turned on a sloppy pass that became an intercept try.
"The Crusaders were on attack, Aaron Cruden intercepted the ball and the Chiefs ended up winning [by one point]," he said, adding that Saturday's game in Johannesburg could again be decided by one moment of brilliance or a mistake.
The Lions, who have been building for six months towards this moment, this play-off series, do not regard their seven-point head-start as much of an advantage.
"We do have the advantage, but on the flipside, we also made plenty of mistakes at the weekend," captain JC Janse van Rensburg said, adding that eliminating errors are central to their cause.
Janse van Rensburg, who will feature in his last match in the 'red-'n-white' before taking up a two-year deal with French team Bayonne, said they are only "halfway" towards their goal - despite last week's victory in Port Elizabeth.
"This coming weekend is a helluva big game for us and we are focussed on this game."
He felt that a combination of the Kings' defence and Lions errors prevented them from playing a more free-flowing game in PE.
However, they are not going to take unnecessary risks at Ellis Park.
"We are known as a team that likes playing an expansive game, but on the flipside this is knock-out rugby," the Lions skipper said.
"You can't take too many risks. The key remains to get into their half and play from there.
"Hopefully this weekend we can produce a more balanced game.
"We made some errors on the restarts, which had us under pressure from the outset, so this weekend we have to put the pressure on them and not allow our errors to put us under pressure."
Players to watch:
For the Lions: Injuries tend to attract the spotlight, so Ross Cronje (in place of the injured Vian van der Watt) and Deon Helberg (for the injured Deon van Rensburg) will be worth watching. The Lions' key playmaker remains flyhalf Elton Jantjies, who will look to take a massive step up from last week. Derick Minnie will also want to avoid the rash of penalties he conceded last week.
For the Southern Kings: As with the Lions, injuries influenced team selection this week - with flyhalf George Whitehead having to step into the considerable boots of Demetri Catrakilis, with Waylon Murray unleashed in midfield against his former teammates. Scott van Breda, on the right wing in place of New Zealander Hadleigh Parkes, who moved to the left wing in place of Marcello Sampson, will also have some pressure on him to contain the hard-running Lions out wide.
Head-to-head: It was an intriguing battle last wee and will be no different this week - the free-running Lions loose trio of Warren Whiteley, Derick Minnie and Jaco Kriel pitting their skill against the might of the physical Kings trio of Jacques Engelbrecht, Wimpie van der Walt and Cornell du Preez. The one facet where the Lions had a clear advantage last week, the scrums, will again be crucial - Julian Redelinghuys, Martin Bezuidenhout and JC Janse van Rensburg (Lions) against Kevin Buys, Bandise Maku and Schalk Ferreira (Kings).
2013: Lions won 41-31, Johannesburg
2013: Lions won 26-19, Port Elizabeth
Prediction: Last week's game did indeed turn on one moment - that intercept try by Nicolaas Hanekom just before half-time. Saturday will be no different - one flash of brilliance is likely to decide who plays Super Rugby in 2014. The Lions looked more secure in the set pieces last week and while that is no guarantee of dominance this week, we feel they may well have the edge up front and sneak another win - the Lions by less than 10 points.
Lions: 15 Ruan Combrinck, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Dylan Des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg (captain).
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Willie Britz, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Guy Cronje, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Chrysander Botha.
Southern Kings: 15 SP Marais, 14 Scott van Breda, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Waylon Murray, 11 Hadleigh Parkes, 10 George Whitehead, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Darron Nell (captain), 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Charl du Plessis, 17 Hannes Franklin, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Devin Oosthuizen, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 Wesley Dunlop, 22 Shane Gates.
Date: Saturday, August 3
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Bright sunshine, with virtually no chance of precipitation. Hi of 18°C and a low of 4°C
Referee: Stuart Berry
Assistant referees: Jason Jaftha, Marius Jonker
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
By Jan de Koning