Lions playing the underdog tag
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Lions have taken all the pressure off themselves ahead of their Super Rugby semifinal against the Hurricanes at Ellis Park on Saturday by labelling themselves as the underdogs for this clash.
The Lions have started as favourites in every match which they have played throughout their 2017 Super Rugby campaign and they have done justice to this tag by finishing the regular season in first position on the table with 65 points from 15 matches played, which includes 14 wins and one defeat.
They advanced to the Super Rugby semifinals, courtesy of a 23-21 quarterfinal victory over the Sharks at Ellis Park last weekend.
The Hurricanes, however, will prove to be a different prospect to what the Lions have faced throughout the season.
The Lions have not played New Zealand teams during the regular season in 2017 and the defending champions Hurricanes will be their first taste of Kiwi opposition this year.
The pride of Johannesburg have a dismal record against the Hurricanes having lost their last eight Super Rugby matches in a row against them - including a 3-20 defeat in the 2016 Super Rugby Final at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington and a 17-50 defeat in Johannesburg during the 2016 Super Rugby regular season.
The Lions have not lost a Super Rugby match at Ellis Park since that defeat at the hands of the Hurricanes last year and speaking at the team announcement in Johannesburg on Thursday, coach Johan Ackermann made reference to the recent history between the two teams and shifted all the pressure to the side of the Hurricanes by giving them the 'favourites' tag.
"It makes them favourites again definitely," said Ackermann.
With a few changes in playing personnel on both sides, Ackermann added that both teams will start from scratch come kick-off on Saturday.
"A lot of things have changed since last year, we lost players that played in those games, they’ve [Hurricanes] lost players, so to me the whole slate is 0-0.
"But the reality is that they are a quality side and they proved that last year, so the challenge is really up for us to be able to contest against them," Ackermann explained.
Stand in captain and flank Jaco Kriel shared his coach's sentiments that the Lions are feeling a lot less pressure heading into Saturday's clash against the defending champions, compared to the burden of expectation, which stifled them heading into their quarterfinal match-up against the Sharks.
"I agree with coach [Ackermann].
"Last week [23-21 victory over Sharks] all the pressure was basically on us and this week we are playing the defending champions, so it doesn’t get any easier
"The Sharks had nothing to lose last week and now we are playing the guys that won it last year, so it doesn’t get easier. But as I said in the past we don't want it easy, we just want it possible," Kriel said.
By Josh Isaacson