Can the Lions make it three out of three and move to the top of the Vodacom Super Rugby standings when they take on the Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday, or will the home team slump to their worst start to the season in almost a decade?
These will be some of the questions on the minds of the two Gauteng-based sides when they clash in the first Jukskei-derby of 2014 – and this time the Lions will be arriving at Loftus Versfeld with their confidence high after a superb start to the season.
The Vodacom Bulls, on the other hand, are still winless. The last time they lost their opening three rounds of the competition was in 2005, but all three those matches were on the road. This weekend, the team from Pretoria are at their beloved Loftus Versfeld, where they boast a 63% win record in local derbies.
Their aims will be on completely different targets when the Vodacom Bulls host the Lions in their third round Vodacom Super Rugby match at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on Saturday evening.
One will be trying to avert their worst-ever start to the season in nearly a decade, while the other is gunning for a third successive win and their best-ever start to the toughest provincial competition in the world.
When history is taken into account, it will be easy to think the Lions are the strugglers and the Vodacom Bulls the cruisers, but this time it’s the other way around.
And if the Lions can break their duck at Loftus Versfeld, like they did over the DHL Stormers last weekend, they will finish the round at the top of the standings.
In 2007, the Lions won four of their first five matches, but the defeat came in round one against the Waratahs. Their next best came in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012 when they won one out of their first three matches. But in 2010 and 2011 the team from Johannesburg were still winless after three rounds.
The Vodacom Bulls, on the other hand, have not lost three straight in the opening rounds since 2005. Two of those were Down Under, but in the opening round they came unstuck against the Cats at Ellis Park.
The Pretorians pulled themselves together and later that season they still made the semi-finals, but having been amongst the top teams for a long time, they know full-well home defeats are not ideal if you want to make it to the top six.
After making a number of changes to his team for this important match, Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke said: “It is still early in the competition, but we have to be honest with ourselves – we cannot afford a repeat of the first two weekends, where we were lethargic and inaccurate in our set plays.
“The Lions are high on confidence, so we need not only to start well, but play with belief and commitment.”
Flip van der Merwe, who took over the captaincy from Pierre Spies last week, will again lead the team into battle.
“We are way down on the standards we set for ourselves this season,” said Van der Merwe.
“This will be our first home game of the season and we are pleased about it after two difficult weekends in Durban and Bloemfontein. We are facing a rampant Lions team though who are playing with passion, skill and precision. We need to match them in those areas if we want to record our first win of the tournament.”
The teams are:
Vodacom Bulls: Jurgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Bjorn Basson, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Francois Hougaard, Grant Hattingh, Jacques du Plessis, Jono Ross, Victor Matfield, Flip van der Merwe (captain), Frik Kirsten, Callie Visagie, Dean Greyling. Replacements: Bongi Mbonambi, Werner Kruger, Marcel van der Merwe, Paul Willemse, Jacques Engelbrecht, Piet van Zyl, Handré Pollard, Ulrich Beyers.
Lions: Chrysander Botha, Deon van Rensburg, JW Jonker, Stefan Watermeyer, Ruan Combrinck, Marnitz Boshoff, Faf de Klerk, Warren Whiteley (captain), Warwick Tecklenburg, Jaco Kriel, Franco van der Merwe, Franco Mostert, Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee, Schalk van der Merwe. Replacements: Willie Wepener, Jacques van Rooyen, Ruan Dreyer, MB Lusaseni, Willie Britz, Ross Cronje, Courtnall Skosan, Coenie van Wyk.
Date: Saturday, 1 March
SA Time: 17h05
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Sieg van Staden (South Africa)
Television match official: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Credit: SARU Corporate Affairs