Ken Borland
Sports Journalist
2 minute read
17 Jul 2018
7:46 pm

Springbok legends ‘positive’ over Lions’ prospects

Ken Borland

Consistency has been lacking for the Lions in 2018 but two former national captains point out that is less of an issue during knockouts.

Victor Matfield was a consultant for the Lions in last year's Currie Cup. Photo: Gallo Images.

With a home match against the Waratahs or the Highlanders lying ahead in the semifinals, former Springbok greats Jean de Villiers and Victor Matfield said on Tuesday that they still have high hopes for the Lions in this year’s Super Rugby playoffs, provided they get over their quarterfinal hurdle against the Jaguares at Ellis Park on Saturday.

The draw now reveals just how crucial it was for the Lions to claim second place on the overall log, as it means they get to host the semi-final if they qualify for it, while the Waratahs would have to cross the Indian Ocean after going down to the Brumbies, in a match they simply did not pitch for, 40-31.

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“The Lions were more consistent last year, but like our Springbok Sevens team showed in Paris when they won the World Series, it’s all about producing a top performance when it really counts. The Lions have got some quality players back, like Warren Whiteley, who adds a lot both in terms of his play and his leadership.

“Last year’s final was very disappointing for the Lions and hopefully that will motivate them. And then they play either the Waratahs or the Highlanders in the semi-finals, both of whom are very beatable at Ellis Park. And if our South African teams are relatively successful in the playoffs then it will go a long way towards building confidence for the Springboks ahead of the Rugby Championship,” De Villiers said in Pretoria at a Laureus Sport for Good Foundation breakfast on Tuesday.

Matfield agreed with his fellow former Springbok captain.

“It’s a great opportunity for the Lions because they might not have to play a New Zealand team in the semi-finals and maybe the Hurricanes or the Chiefs can beat the Crusaders in the other semifinal and then the Lions will play the final at Ellis Park. So the Lions can really win this competition. They have a lot of injured players who have come back, including Warren Whiteley who brings a lot of confidence, and the team is on an up-curve.

“I think it’s going to be very difficult for the Sharks though to travel to play the Crusaders. But they have played really well against the New Zealand teams, the physicality of their pack and Andre Esterhuizen at 12 and Robert du Preez at flyhalf means they can stand up against them. But travelling over there is very difficult and I don’t have much hope for them,” Matfield said.

De Villiers said he was also much more excited about the Lions’ prospects, not being very confident that the Sharks can overcome an “outstanding” Crusaders side.

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