Let’s not pull any punches here. The Lions are a team in crisis at the moment and the Sharks simply have to hand them a proper hiding at Coca-Cola Park this weekend. There is no excuse for anything other than a convincing bonus-point win.
Now I realise this will come across as incredibly arrogant and I ask for forgiveness up front from all our Lions readers, but for the Sharks to continue the healing process, so necessary after a nightmare zero-from-five start to the season, there can be no mercy shown to the hapless Joburgers, yet to record a victory in this year’s competition despite all the enthusiasm caused by the appointment of Dick Muir as head coach.
Making the Sharks task more difficult will the the absence of two key playmakers; number 8 Ryan Kankowski is out for some time with a broken thumb, while exciting 19-year-old fullback Pat Lambie is expected to be unavailable owing to South African under-20 commitments. While Willem Alberts offers a different, yet no less awesome dynamic at the back of the scrum, it is the anticipated change at fullback that causes me the most concern. While Stefan Terblanche is the obvious candidate to take over Lambie’s number 15 jersey, it will mean a reversion to the unimaginative back three that looked so out of sorts on attack in the first five rounds. Moving the veteran away from his newly-discovered outside centre berth will leave a hole there as well, which will need to be filled somehow.
Fortunately for the Sharks, a number of fringe players put in some big performances for the Sharks XV down in PE on Friday night and must surely now be considered for inclusion. Lwazi Mvovo and (particularly) Waylon Murray were destructive on attack and coach John Plumtree would be foolish not to bring both back into his 22 this week. Mvovo is ripe for a start on the wing, with Ndungane perhaps more ideally suited to the number 15 jersey these days. That would allow Terblanche to continue at outside centre, with Murray covering centre and wing from the bench.
Flanker Justin Downey one man of the match for his exploits down in the windy city and it’s now high time that he was given a run with the Super 14 side as well; his versatility makes him a far more sensible loose-forward replacement than Keegan Daniel, who can only really cover the number 6 jersey. Then again, why not include both? Johann Muller should be able to play again this weekend as well, but to my way of thinking, the veteran lock forward should be in the number 18 jersey, as it would be simply cruel to drop Alistair Hargreaves after his superb performance against the Reds.
If I were picking the 22 for the Lions, this is how it would look:
15 Odwa Ndungane, 14 Lwazi Mvovo, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Riaan Swanepeol, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 John Smit (capt)
16 Craig Burden, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Johann Muller, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Waylon Murray