All eyes on Mapimpi, Simelane as Lions hosts Sharks
While the visiting Sharks team will be minus several key players, the Lions will be at full-strength for the Rainbow Cup match.
Sharks wing Makazole Mapimpi is back in the Durban-based side after his return from Japan. Picture: Steve Haag/Gallo Images
The Lions and Sharks will be looking at the bigger picture when they clash in the Rainbow Cup at Ellis Park on Saturday.
With the Springbok squad announcement weighing heavily on the mind of the top players, they could be forgiven for having a possible call-up in the back of their minds.
Both Lions coach Cash van Rooyen and his Sharks counterpart Sean Everitt have however stressed that the focus is only on the game.
Players in line for selection may normally hold back, fearing for injuries, but both coaches stressed that the candidates would have to keep performing to remain in contention.
The return of Bok wing Makazole Mapimpi could be one of the features of the game, having recently returned from Japan. His battle with Lions wing Rabz Maxwane is set to create fireworks on its own.
One of the other intriguing battles in store could be between the Hendrikse’s, with Jordan at flyhalf for the Lions and his older brother Jaden at scrumhalf for the Sharks.
The Sharks have opted to field a weakened side, with three of their players in national contention being rested – Bok skipper Siya Kolisi, fullback Aphelele Fassi and Sharks skipper and Bok centre Lukhanyo Am.
Van Rooyen however, believes the visitors still pose a formidable threat, having beaten the Lions 34-26 in their previous encounter.
The Lions have decided not to rest two of their players in national interests, centre Wandisile Simelane and flank Vincent Tshituka.
With the teams entering the penultimate round of the competition, the Sharks would want to keep their claims alive after below-par performances against the Bulls and the Stormers.
The Durbanites lost their last two matches, but could keep their title aspirations alive if they win their next two games against the Lions, and the Bulls at home.
Having lost their first three games, the Lions will want to build on their victory over the Bulls last time out.
There will be little rest coming up for the leading players, with the Currie Cup starting the week after the completion of the Rainbow Cup.
With the Lions unlikely to stake a claim for a place in the final, they could be at full strength when the Currie Cup kicks off.
They could therefore look at building momentum, with the Pro16 likely to follow shortly after the completion of the Currie Cup competition.
But first they have the Sharks to deal with on Saturday.