We gave the guys a mental break
The Golden Lions could not have wished for a more daunting start to their Currie Cup campaign, a Super-sized Free State Cheetahs team.
The Cheetahs starting team for Saturday will feature 12 players that played in their last Super Rugby match, against the Brumbies in the preliminary play-offs.
However, it is not so much the quality of the Cheetahs' playing personnel, rather than their own emotional state that could trip up the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday.
The players have been on an absolute high after the Lions regained their Super Rugby status with a two-point (44-42 on aggregate) win over the Southern Kings in the past fortnight.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann admitted that the biggest hurdle would be to ensure his team is emotionally up for the game.
"It will be a big challenge," Ackermann told this website ahead of the arrival of the Cheetahs at Ellis Park, adding that they addressed the issue this week.
"We gave the guys a mental break and they had two days off [Sunday and Monday]. We started training only on Tuesday.
"It will be a challenge, but the guys have to realise that job is done, the box has been ticked and we now face a new challenge [in he Currie Cup competition].
"We have to put that [regaining Super Rugby status] will have to be put and focus on the Currie Cup [competition].
"If you don't do well in the Currie Cup competition you could end up in another promotion-relegation game," he said of the fact that the last-placed Currie Cup team will face off against the winners of the First Division at the end of the season.
In the Currie Cup teams are up against tough opposition every week and even Griquas, as the only non-Super Rugby outfit, are a huge challenge.
"Last year we lost to Griquas twice," Ackermann told this website.
"It is a very intense competition and you are up against the best week after week.
"There also isn't much time to catch up of you fall behind [lose a few games], but we have to get off to a good start."
Ackermann said the two key challenges for him is to replace all the injured players and those who departed, as well as get the players focussed on the new challenge.
"We ticked the one box [gaining promotion to Super Rugby], but we now switch to the Currie Cup and ensure we do well there."
By Jan de Koning