Lions coach Loffie Eloff believes a home semi-final is still a possibility, but five consecutive wins is a must.
The Lions currently lie comfortably in fourth spot, but seven points adrift of the second-placed Sharks and a home play-off spot. Eloff is not under-estimating the so-called minnows, but in the next three weeks the Lions face the Valke (away), Griquas (home), and Boland in Wellington. Claiming 15 points is a necessity ahead of their final couple of fixtures against the Sharks in Johannesburg and Western Province at Newlands.
“We need to win all five of them, and are aiming to do so,” Eloff told keo.co.za. “We need bonus points, but aren’t focusing on that just yet, we must win the games first. It will be ideal to get the home-semi, and with big teams playing each other in the next few weeks, it gives us a chance to close the gap.”
The bigger unions do have the luxury of returning Springboks for the closing run towards the semis – something Eloff doesn’t have at his disposal. Joe Van Niekerk has left for Toulon, while Eloff is hopeful Jaque Fourie will return in two weeks time from his jaw injury suffered in the Test against Argentina.
“The top Springboks will definitely strengthen the other teams, and this will make it an interesting and tough end to the competition – which is what we want. If everything goes to plan, Jaque could be back in two weeks, as could [utility back] Jannie Boshoff. Other good news is that [lock] Dewald Senekal could return in four weeks,” said Eloff.
The return of ex-skipper Ernst Joubert counters the loss of in-form eighthman Willem Alberts – who is sidelined for the remainder of the season with an ankle injury. However, the depth in the squad will be of a concern to Eloff as five, and possibly six consecutive weeks (including the semis) of rugby remain.
Joubert captained the team at the beginning of the Super 14 before he injured his shoulder, but Cobus Grobbelaar will retain the captaincy for the rest of the season. “We just want Ernst to focus on his own game at the moment and to get his form back.”
The Lions will need the top teams to aid them in their quest for a home semi, but if they keep their end of the bargain, the possibility of a play-off at Ellis Park can not be discarded just yet.
By Grant Ball