The Lions have turned their home ground into a fortress in recent years – a place where they don’t easily come unstuck. With their loyal fans behind them, they’ve got the better of most teams at Ellis Park – as they showed last week against the Reds, when they were far off their best, but still won.
The Stormers, too, have felt plenty of pain in Joburg, and just last season lost 41-22 to a Lions team that didn’t even include today’s captain, Elton Jantjies, who was stood down for the game because of a disciplinary matter.
In 2018, the Lions won 52-31 at home, while the Lions’ record in the last 10 meetings between the teams, at Ellis Park and Newlands, is impressive: won six, drawn one, and lost just three. The Lions may not be the team of three years ago, but they’re no pushovers at home.
With a new coach in Ivan van Rooyen in charge and a bunch of new players now donning the red and white jersey no-one quite knows what to expect of this year’s Lions team. They were good for 50 minutes against the Jaguares, and then fell away badly, and last week against the Reds they were hammered in the scrums, gave away plenty of penalties, but still stumbled their way to a 27-20 victory.
What will they dish up today? The Stormers know the Lions like to play a fast, expansive game where running trumps kicking, but is that what Van Rooyen’s team will produce this time, too?
Last week they kicked just about every penalty to touch to set up the driving maul, but will points on the board be more important this week? And how will they go in the scrums? All the questions around the new-look Lions make them a dangerous team.
Backs to the wall
Let’s be honest, not too many fans – not even the die-hard Lions supporters – are giving their team much chance of making a big impression in 2020. The three-time runners-up are in a rebuilding phase after losing several key players and undergoing a change in the coaching team.
They’ve copped flak from many quarters already this season, but they’re a proud bunch, with a rich recent history, and they’ll be keen to shut up the nay-sayers. The Lions haven’t been given much chance against this Stormers team – who’ve kept the Hurricanes and Bulls pointless – and they’ve pretty much been written off. It’s the biggest mistake anyone could make.
If they click – something they often do when they have their backs to the wall and they’re up against the odds – they can be very lethal, and I believe they’ll put out their best in what is always a high-octane match against the Stormers.
Three reasons why the Stormers will beat the Lions – Wynona Louw
The Stormers’ defence has been at the next level; the fact that they haven’t conceded a single point in two matches proves that. And it’s not like they haven’t been tested…
Against the Bulls, the Stormers had to soak up a lot of pressure in the last quarter especially, but the Bulls just couldn’t get through. Same against the ‘Canes.
Defence coach Norman Laker hasn’t been keen on taking too much credit for the Stormers having blanked their opposition two weeks in a row, instead crediting the players’ commitment and the culture in the team.
While the Lions will present a very different challenge to the Bulls, the Stormers shouldn’t have too many issues containing their runners, even when the game opens up. There’s that commitment, after all.
Their defence has been key in their early success, and it’s highly unlikely that one of their main weapons is suddenly going to become blunt.
Not gonna happen.
The Hurricanes stood no chance against the Stormers’ men up front. They were dismantled. The hosts also dominated the Kiwis at the set-piece and they didn’t have much gain line success either. At the breakdown? The Stormers schooled them there, too.
Against the Bulls, it was a typically physical affair, but the Stormers got the job done. And given how the Lions conceded scrum penalties against the Reds last week, the Stormers have every right to feel confident about their chances come scrum time.
And it’s not just the scrum the Stormers have enough manpower up front in general to ensure they dominate the physical exchanges and ace the set-pieces. They’ve shown us that, after all. And given the pack reinforcement they have on the bench, I’d say the Lions are in for a tough one.
At the start of the Super Rugby season, Stormers assistant coach Dawie Snyman said they focused quite a bit on conditioning their players to close out tough games in the last 10 or so and to play for 80 minutes, and until now at least, their ability to go the full 80 definitely looks better than what it did last season.
They obviously haven’t had to close out a match in the last minutes in 2020, but they’ve stayed on the lookout for opportunities, and that’s a big thing remember Damian Willemse’s intercept against the Hurricanes? Something along those lines will serve them well today as well.
The ability this team has to pounce, in broken play and on the counter, is another strength they can use to their advantage. We all know what the likes of Seabelo Senatla, Sergeal Petersen, Dillyn Leyds and Damian Willemse can do given even half a chance