The Lions host the Sharks in what will be a crunch match for the Africa 2 Conference in Johannesburg on Saturday.
A mere two points separates these two high-flying teams with the Lions on 19 and the Sharks on 17. Whoever can claim victory in the game will have a massive psychological and points boost going into the rest of the competition.
The home side will be confident heading into the clash having won each of their last three games against the Sharks, more than they had won in their previous 13 meetings (W2, D1, L10). The Lions have won each of their last eight games on home turf, winning by an average margin of 26 points per game across that span.
The Sharks have proven to be successful travellers having won their last two away games, and the last time they enjoyed a longer streak was a stretch of three road wins in Round 3, 2016, which equalled the club record.
Their scrum has also been formidable as they are one of just four teams (Highlanders, Stormers and Sunwolves) who are yet to lose a scrum on their own feed this campaign.
Sharks coach Robert du Preez is aware that this will be one of his side’s more trying fixtures this season.
“Bloem is a tough place to play at and we were happy to come away with a victory. There were a few areas we let ourselves down in last week and we needed to work on for this match. I cannot fault the focus and energy that our players once again brought to training this week, which pleases us as a coaching unit,” he said.
“We are under no illusions about the enormity of the match on Saturday. The Lions are a good team with threats all around the park.
“They play a similar game to the Cheetahs and our accuracy with our attacking and defensive effort is going to be key. There is huge belief amongst our special group of players and we want to go out there on Saturday and make our fans proud.”
The last time these teams met: The Lions outclassed the Sharks 37-10 in a one-sided spectacle at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. Leading 27-0 at the break thanks to Ruan Combrinck, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Malcolm Marx and Ruan Ackermann’s tries, the Lions were flying. It looked like they would continue their dominance after the interval when Jaco Kriel went over but the Sharks bounced back well later on, as crossings from Lwazi Mvovo and Chiliboy Ralepelle gave some respectability to the scoreline in an otherwise forgetful day for the visitors.
Team news: The Lions are unchanged for the clash with the only news being that star outside centre Lionel Mapoe failed to get fit in time to be added to the bench with Dillon Smit taking the 23 spot.
For the Sharks, Garth April comes in for Clément Poitrenaud at full-back while Daniel du Preez is at number eight, with Tera Mtembu shifting to the openside. In the final alteration to the team, Thomas du Toit replaces Tendai Mtawarira at loosehead prop, who is not considered due to a death in the family.
Form: The Lions are looking like one of the form sides in this competition so far. In their last three games a B team lost to the Jaguares 36-24 in Buenos Aires, before they put the Reds and Kings to the sword, scoring over 40 points in each game. The beat the Australians 44-14 and the overcame the Kings 42-19.
The Sharks are on good run of form despite their Round 4 hiccup. They have won four of their last five games. Their last three games have been quite a mixed bag with the Durban side giving the Waratahs a 37-14 hiding before just managing to squeeze past the Kings 19-17 and then came from behind to beat the Cheetahs 38-30 in Bloemfontein.
2016: Lions won 37-10 in Johannesburg
2016: Sharks won 24-9 in Durban
2015: Lions won 23-21 in Johannesburg
2015: Sharks won 29-12 in Durban
2014: Sharks won 25-12 in Johannesburg
2014: Sharks won 37-23 in Durban
2012: Lions won 38-28 in Johannesburg
2012: Sharks won 32-20 in Durban
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Dillon Smit
Sharks: 15 Garth April, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Tera Mtembu (c), 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Thomas du Toit
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Inny Radebe, 23 Jeremy Ward
Date: Saturday, April 1
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)