Ross Roche

By Ross Roche

Senior sports writer

A game of close margins expected between Lions and Sharks

Against local rivals, both the Lions and Sharks have suffered only one blowout.

A potential thriller is on the cards when the Lions and Sharks go head to head in their vital United Rugby Championship (URC) derby clash at Ellis Park on Saturday afternoon.

The Lions need a win to keep their hopes alive of making it into the top eight, while the Sharks will want to turn their fortunes around in a season where they have suffered nine defeats and picked up only one victory.

However, if other South African derbies battled out so far this season are anything to go by, this weekend’s encounter should be a very close match that goes down to the wire.

Against local rivals, both the Lions and Sharks have suffered only one blowout, with the Lions beaten 25-10 by the Bulls at Ellis Park and the Sharks thumped 44-10 by the Bulls at Loftus.

Local thrillers

All the other local derbies have been decided by less than seven points, with the Lions losing to the Stormers 35-33 and Bulls 30-28, both away, while they beat the Sharks 20-18 in Durban.

On top of that Durban loss, the Sharks have gone down to the Stormers 16-15 in Cape Town and 25-21 at Kings Park.

It is thus expected to be a close game at Ellis Park which could swing either way and may go down to who executes better on the day.

“It will definitely be a close game in our minds again, the quality team that the Sharks are, and I think we all know, with the quality players they have and with the quality coaching staff they have, they actually should be in a better position at the moment,” said Lions assistant coach Barend Pieterse.

“So I think it will always be a close game against them, it doesn’t matter if it’s in Johannesburg or in Durban. It will come down to whoever does the small things better. We hope we are that team on the day.”

The Lions head into the encounter on a four-game losing streak, having lost to Montpellier and Ospreys in the Challenge Cup, followed by back-to-back cross-Jukskei defeats to the Bulls.

They will thus be desperate to get a win to build some momentum before they head off on a tricky two-game European tour, but they know they face a stiff test against an improving Sharks team.

‘Important game’

“We took a long, hard look at our two losses, what we did wrong and also what we did right, because I mean there was some good stuff as well,” explained Pieterse.

“It is a very important game and we want to go out and win and perform well for the people at home after that wonderful support we got in our last game.

“Watching their (the Sharks) game against the Stormers the previous weekend, I think they have already gotten better. There are not a lot of teams that can come back against the Stormers like that.

“I think they have already started with an upward curve. It’s going to be a very tough game, so you look at who they can pick that is available.”

The Lions also have a close to full strength squad available for the match but are still waiting to see if Emmanuel Tshituka, who missed the Sharks game due to a hamstring strain, will be available for the game.

“At the moment there are no big injury concerns for us. All the guys that are coming back from injury are doing well in their rehab. We are just waiting on some feedback on Manu (Tshituka),” said Pieterse.

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