Ellis Park promises bigger contest

The Lions team will be a different sort of beast to the one that lay down against the Free Staters on 8 July, where they lost 59-5.

The last time the two sides met in Bloemfontein, the Vodacom Cheetahs beat the struggling Lions severely. A lot has changed in the past two months from the Lions’ perspective, while the Cheetahs have now claimed pole position in the race for a home semi-final. They meet again this Friday at Ellis Park, where the Lions have won their last three games against the Valke, the Pumas, and most notably the Sharks.

“I think that they now understand what they want to achieve,” Free State captain Ollie le Roux told keo.co.za. “They have been improving with every game, particularly in the scrums where they have been fronting up a lot more.”

While the Lions are on a comeback trail to form, the Cheetahs are riding a huge wave of confidence. They slaughtered the Valke in Bloemfontein last week by 78-8, scoring 12 tries in all. Youngster Alwyn Hollenbach and newcomer Hendrik Meyer both scored hat-tricks, which would have pleased Rassie Erasmus immensely. The side that beat the Valke boasted eight changes.

The Cheetahs coach now finds himself in a wonderful position. With five games to play, his side tops the log, and he has now had a thorough look at his greater squad by giving everyone game time. Le Roux is similarly elated.

“It’s great that we have been able to see what these other guys can do,” he said. “I can’t say whether we will make more changes for the Lions game this weekend. Rassie is a guy who likes to keep his cards very close to chest.”

Meyer Bosman’s position in the team will be an area of great debate. Willem de Waal has been solid for the Cheetahs in this year’s competition, but Bosman’s form in attacking play may yet earn him his favoured flyhalf position. Perhaps this will be Erasmus’ greatest headache when they reach the semi-finals: who does he play at No.10?

“It is an interesting point,” admitted Le Roux. “Meyer is such a great player and has shown his class in the two games he has played thus far.”

However, the champs are aware that they still have work to do if they are to achieve their goal of obtaining a home semi-final.

A Lions win on Friday will increase the home side’s outside chances of making the playoffs, and will also allow the winner of this weekend’s clash at Newlands (either Vodacom Western Province or Vodacom Bulls if they win by five points) the opportunity to assume the top spot on the log. The Sharks are also strong favourites to pick up five points against the Pumas, which may also send them to the top.

“We won well on Saturday, but this next game will be vitally impotant,” said Le Roux. “We’ve made it to the top, and now we’ve got to make sure we stay there.”

by Jon Cardinelli