Lions MUST break away duck
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Golden Lions may be back in the Currie Cup race, but they still face a steep uphill if they are to retain their title.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann feels that if they build on their 58-32 victory over Western Province at Ellis Park last Friday, they will reach the play-offs.
However, they play two of their last three matches away from home, starting with the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Thursday.
It means they have to break their duck on the road - with all three wins this season (against the Pumas, Boland cavaliers and WP) having been in Johannesburg. They lost to Griquas and the Blue Bulls away from home.
"It is going to be a lot of hard work and we have some tough games lying ahead," Ackermann said of a schedule that sees them play the table-topping Cheetahs away, the Eastern Province Kings in Port Elizabeth and the second-placed Sharks at Ellis Park.
"It [playing against the Cheetahs] is going to be a massive game for us and for us ," Ackermann said, adding that it will require an improved performance from what they dished up against Province.
"We have two away games now. As you saw with the Sharks going to Newlands and Western Province coming here [Ellis Park], it is not easy to win away from home.
"It is not going to be easy [in Bloemfontein]. A good win gives you confidence," he said of the victory against WP, adding: "However, as we saw, we had good wins over the Pumas and Boland, but that didn't mean anything [against the Blue Bulls].
"We have to reset and start over again."
The coach spoke about his team's lack of accuracy which cost them in their defeats on the road and said they will have to "reset" ahead of a "good Super Rugby Cheetahs side" and fix the things that cost them in the last two away games.
He said they still gave the belief that they can retain their title, despite the steep hill that is left to climb.
"When the Currie Cup started every team would have had that belief in their squad that they can win," he said, adding:"The same applies to us.
"We have a lot of faith in the players.
"Players like [No.8] Fabian Booysen and [lock] JP [Jean-Pierre du Preez] grabbed their opportunities.
"Also, guys like Ruan Dreyer and Robbie Coetzee played a lot of Super Rugby in the past and had to step up."
Ackermann believes that his team will be physically and mentally ready for the midweek game - previously a rarity, but commonplace in the revamped and diluted 2016 version of the competition.
The Lions are in fifth place on the Currie Cup table, with 17 points from five matches. However, they still trail the fourth placed Griquas by two points and Ackermann said his team will be playing 'finals' rugby in their remaining three fixtures.
"We are basically in knock-out mode now, that's the reality.
"[Western Province coach] John Dobson said it last week, that they are in knock-out rugby and I agree with him.
"The sides are so close to each other that if you lose, your chances of making the play-offs get slimmer and slimmer.
"The reality is that we can't slip up anymore and the players know it. We must just take it game by game now and keep pushing the right buttons," Ackermann added.
The Lions also have a few injury concerns.
Centre Howard Mnisi must pass concussion tests this week, while lock Lourens Erasmus has to undergo a scan on a stomach muscle injury.
Centre Jacques Nel also has a strained hamstring.
Ackermann was not willing to commit about their availability until he had the results of the tests.
Ackermann said that his team will adjust their training routine if necessary, in order to be in a good physical space come Thursday.
"We going to stick to our same routine, same way of preparing, same plan in place as the last few weeks.
"We will treat it as a Friday game, so everything will adjust from there on and it's going to be just another game and hopefully our players will see it that way.
"However, we've got a day ahead of the Cheetahs who beat Sharks 38-30 in Durban on Saturday] and that's a positive.
"So, recovery wise, hopefully we will be in a little bit better shape, but it's going to be a massive game."
By Josh Isaacson