When you take a close look at Saturday’s Super Rugby clash between the Lions and the Sharks at Ellis Park, there is a decidedly incestuous link between the line-ups, from the very top at coaching level right down to the substitutes, but when it comes to kick off you can be assured there will be no brotherly love.
Opposition coaches John Plumtree and John Mitchell famously hail from the little town of Hawera in Taranaki where they were peers at school, and to celebrate this quirk of them both having grown up out of the sticks to be international coaches, they privately have the Hawera Cup that they contest whenever they come face to face (whether it was when Plumtree was coaching Wellington and Mitchell Waikato, or in the UK when they coached opposing clubs, or in the Super 12 games between the Sharks and the Western Force and now in South Africa when it is the Lions v the Sharks.
The Sharks, of course, have controversially courted former Lions in Louis Ludik, Willem Alberts and Gerhard Mostert, and Charl McLeod was also a Lion once upon a time; while the Sharks off-loaded Waylon Murray, Rory Kockott, Butch James (via English club Bath) Pat Cilliers, Michael Rhodes and Warren Whiteley; not to mention the sore point of Lionel Mapoe, who after a vicious court battle between Durban and Bloemfontein showed the Sharks a toffee and went to Johannesburg.
So everybody knows everybody, so to speak, but while the beers are on tomorrow afternoon, these teams will get stuck into each other for reasons rising above all these players having deserted – or been let loose – by their respective unions
The Sharks have their entire Super Rugby campaign riding on the match – they have to win to maintain control of their challenge for a place in the quarter-finals – while for the devil-may-care Lions, it is their last hurrah. They have a bye in next week’s last round, so this will be them signing off, and after so much bitter-sweet drama, they want to end it all in style, as much for themselves as for their long-suffering fans, by winning at least one match at home. The Lions’ three wins have all been away from Ellis Park.
Plumtree is wary of the Lions as much because he knows the ultra-competitive Mitchell off-by-heart as he is impressed by their recent form which saw them win two matches overseas.
“It helped them to escape on tour from their critics (they were last on the log at the time) and they got to bond together,” Plumtree said. “Then Butch James joined them for their first tour game and he has helped then with their rhythm on attack. Elton Jantjies and Butch have been a good mix because they are both good passers of the ball.”
Plumtree said the Lions had found form once they had settled on their best 15 and stuck with it.
The Lions’ pack on the surface has almost no potential Springbok candidates for the World Cup yet they are playing up a storm, proving that it is not “names” but collective endeavour that counts.
Plumtree agrees: “(flank) Derek Minnie has been outstanding and Wikus van Heerden (at lock) has been amazing with his industry, while Josh Strauss is a big threat with his ball-carrying ability. Their front row has settled down, and their lineout has now gained consistency, so their pack has found form. And with Butch giving them stability at the back, they are a side that can beat anybody.”
The coach has chosen to rest weary Bismarck du Plessis (he is on the bench) which allows John Smit a start at hooker while Beast Mtawarira comes in for Smit at loosehead prop.
Alberts failed a fitness yesterday and with Jean Deysel still suspended, the Sharks have a relatively lightweight but very mobile loose trio in Ryan Kankowski, Keegan Daniel and Jacques Botes
Meanwhile, Jantjies has been demoted to the bench for breaching team protocol while on tour.
“Elton has to face the consequences of breaking team protocol,” Mitchell told The Star. “The leadership group made the decision … it’s got to do with punctuality, he missed an appointment.”
Mitchell will decide today whether he’ll start with Cobus Grobbelaar (family bereavement) and Franco van der Merwe (eye injury), while in other news Michael Bondesio returns to the bench following news that Rory Kockott will continue his career in France.
Mitchell said that with Bondiso being the future, he might as well give him a crack ahead of the departing Kockott.
Lions: Jaco Taute, Dylan des Fountain, Doppies la Grange (capt), Alwyn Hollenbach, Deon van Rensburg, Butch James, Jano Vermaak, Josh Strauss, Cobus Grobbelaar/Jaco Kriel, Derick Minnie, Franco van der Merwe/David de Villiers, Wikus van Heerden, Pat Cilliers, Bandise Maku, JC Janse van Rensburg.
Substitutes: Edgar Marutlulle, Jacobie Adriaanse, David de Villiers/David Bulbring, Warren Whiteley, Michael Bondesio, Elton Jantjies, Michael Killian
Sharks: Louis Ludik, JP Pietersen, Stefan Terblanche, Meyer Bosman, Lwazi Mvovo, Patrick Lambie, Charl McLeod, Ryan Kankowski, Keegan Daniel, Jacques Botes, Gerhard Mostert, Steven Sykes, Eugene van Staden, John Smit (capt), Tendai Mtawarira.
Substitutes: Bismarck du Plessis, Wiehahn Herbst, Alistair Hargreaves, Marcell Coetzee, Frederic Michalak, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Adrian Jacobs
by Mike Greenaway
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