Lions coach Wandile Gwavu says they are fully focused on what lies ahead over the next four days rather than anything else as they prepare to welcome the Titans to the Wanderers Stadium for their final four-day Domestic Series match of 2019 starting on Thursday.
Apart from the fact that the game is the derby, everyone in South Africa is currently in a festive mood as Christmas beckons.
The Lions are also top of the table, but most of their players have endured a torrid five weeks in which their represented team – Jozi Stars – failed to win a single game in the Mzansi Super League (MSL), which concluded on Monday.
“We’ve spoken at length to the players about the importance of this game that comes just before Christmas and we’ve asked the guys to be mentally prepared for it because most of our guys have been playing Mzansi Super League,” Gwavu said.
“It’s also a conversation we’ve also had with the players that the MSL and the Lions are totally different. It’s important for them to know the distinction.
“We need to make sure the transition happens quickly, leave what happened in the past five weeks behind and focus on the Lions who are sitting on top of the table.”
Despite what transpired in recent weeks, the Johannesburg-based franchise has enjoyed a strong start to 2019/20, sitting top of the first-class table as they seek to defend their title.
However, a slip-up in the Jukskei derby against a Titans team that are currently just under seven points behind could leave them facing catch-up in the second half of the term.
“We’re not looking too much at the log, but our focus remains on the cricket that we play as a team,” Gwavu adds.
“We were always expecting a very closely-contested season. Every team has been playing some decent cricket.
“You look at the team that’s bottom of the log, they haven’t really played bad cricket and they’ve challenged each time they’ve taken to the field.
“We’ll give the opposition the due respect as we always have. The Titans, we’re looking ahead to with a lot of excitement because it’s a derby. But we’re not focused on them, but we’re looking at executing our own plans and skill.”
For the Titans, this week will be feeling slightly different after they begin life without Mark Boucher, who has been appointed Team Director for the Proteas, under the leadership of Director of Cricket, Graeme Smith.
Mandla Mashimbyi, long-time assistant to the former South Africa wicketkeeper, is the new man at the helm and he is looking forward to a good performance against their old rivals.
“I don’t think you need to motivate the guys too much,” he said. “I think that comes from the task at hand. We all love to win and there’s nothing better than that feeling.
“We all know that if we win this one then we can end the year top of the log, which will be nice. That will also give us some momentum heading into the new year and the second part of the competition.”
The Lions squad is to be confirmed.
The Titans squad:
Tony de Zorzi
Grant Thomson (captain)