The Lions will attempt to edge closer to securing top spot in the South African Conference when they take on the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
In many respects, it has been a frustrating campaign for Swys de Bruin’s men, who have struggled to recapture the form they displayed in 2016 and ‘17 where the Johannesburg outfit reached the Super Rugby final.
No doubt, the departure of Johan Ackermann has had an impact while the long-term injuries for Courtnall Skosan and Warren Whiteley have not helped either. However, both those players return to action this weekend, with the captain being named in the starting line-up and Skosan taking his place among the substitutes.
Recent history suggests it will be the visitors that will take the spoils after seven successive victories over the Sharks, but the home side appear closer to their intra-country rivals this season.
Robert du Preez’s men gave a good account of themselves in the opening fixture, going down 26-19 at Ellis Park, and they have developed since then. They are one of the few South African or Australian teams to do well against New Zealand outfits having beaten the Blues, Highlanders and Chiefs.
Although the Lions are unbeaten in the last 21 derbies – a remarkable stat in itself – this may be the weekend that their incredible record, which stretches back to 2015, finally ends.
The Sharks have a number of in-form players, with Andre Esterhuizen, the Du Preez brothers and Curwin Bosch among those to have enjoyed fine seasons. They also have an outside chance of finishing in the play-off places, being six points behind the Rebels, and won’t die wondering on Saturday.
Both need a victory to aid their ambitions but the pressure is firmly on the Lions to win and keep themselves clear of the Jaguares, who are their closest challengers in the conference.
Team news: Sharks head coach Robert du Preez has recalled his Springbok players for this Super Rugby clash at Kings Park.
The Lions haven’t lost to another South African team since 2015 and the Sharks feel they have a good chance of breaking that run in Durban.
In the backline, Robert du Preez JR and Cameron Wright are the half-backs with Lukhanyo Am and Andre Esterhuizen named in the midfield.
Curwin Bosch, S’bu Nkosi and Makazole Mapimpi form an exciting back three.
In the pack, Daniel and Jean-Luc du Preez together with Philip van der Walt form the back-row. Ruan Botha once again leads the team and he will be partnered with Tyler Paul in the second-row.
The front-row consists of Thomas du Toit, Armand van der Merwe and Tendai Mtawarira.
Meanwhile, Warren Whiteley, Malcolm Marx and Ruan Combrinck return for the Lions.
Most significantly, captain Whiteley returns from his year-long absence while Marx has recovered from his hamstring strain.
In the backline, Combrinck is fit again and back on the right wing jersey while Courtnall Skosan returns to the matchday 23 after recovering from a serious knee injury.
2018: Lions won 26-19 in Johannesburg
2017: Lions won 23-21 in Johannesburg
2017: Lions won 27-10 in Durban
2017: Lions won 34-29 in Johannesburg
2016: Lions won 37-10 in Johannesburg
2016: Lions won 24-09 in Durban
2015: Lions won 23-21 in Johannesburg
2015: Sharks won 29-12 in Durban
Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha (c), 4 Tyler Paul, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Replacements: 16 Mahlatse Ralepelle, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Lwazi Mvovo
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith
Replacements: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19, Lourens Erasmus, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Marnus Schoeman, 22 Nic Groom, 23 Courtnall Skosan
Date: Saturday, June 30
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Kick-off: 17:15 local (16:15 BST, 15:15 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)