Under pressure Lions will be up against it in Super 14

From a South African point of view the continued form of the Bulls in the third round Super 14 match against the Lions in Johannesburg as well as that of one of the tournament favourites, the Sharks, who play the Chiefs in New Zealand, will be the focus of interest this weekend.

In other fixtures featuring the South African franchises the as yet unconvincing Stormers play the Blues in Cape Town while the Cheetahs still chase their first win in Australasia when they face the Reds in Brisbane.

** The underrated Bulls have stamped their authority on the Super 14 competition, and the Lions will have to take a step up from their courageous but ultimately inadequate performance against the Sharks last weekend. Frans Ludeke has hit on the right game plan mix for a team which prefers a forward approach.

Even under the so-called “hybrid ELVs” the Bulls have that knack of keeping it tight when it matters – and they have the backs to run it.

The Lions and coach Eugene Eloff are under pressure. A home defeat, making it two losses from three matches, will dent their confidence immeasurably and undo the elation after the win against the Cheetahs.

Should they be without the suspended Heinke van der Merwe – it hinges on his appeal date and of course, the outcome thereof – they will be without arguably their most impressive and influential forward.

The uncertainty about the full fitness of flyhalf Andre Pretorius will be a further psychological setback. To win on Saturday, the Lions’ lineout woes must be solved; they must not have their defence broken 12 times as the Sharks managed to do; they must be the equal of the Bulls in the tight-loose and they must take their opportunities, a malaise carried over from the previous two seasons.

The Bulls, on the other hand, will do well to remember that their seven-try 59-26 win was against an inexperienced, under-strength Blues side. Over-confidence against the Lions will largely undo the good to date.

** The Sharks were dominant in their 25-10 win over the Lions last weekend. They did, however, miss a number of tackles and failed to score four tries for the second week running. They play winless Chiefs who again look like underachievers this year.

On paper, with players of the calibre of halfbacks Brendan Leonard, Stephen Donald and wing Sitiveni Sivivatu, they could be a factor it they get enough ball.

However, the Sharks’ forwards should condemn them to a third successive defeat. And already big Jean Deyzel’s barging runs have become something to look forward to.

Once the Sharks dominate up front, the likes of Frans Steyn, Adi Jacobs, Odwa Ndungane and JP Pietersen will cut the Chiefs to ribbons with ball carrier like Ryan Kankowski to help in the demolision. There is, of course, also the in-form brilliance of Rory Kockott and the ball skills of Ruan Pienaar.

** The Stormers have done much soul-searching this week after conceding four tries for the first time under Rassie Erasmus. They have also scored only five tries in two matches despite a star-studded backline which runs with virtually every ball.

They have experienced, gifted outside backs in Gcobani Bobo, Jean de Villiers, Percy Montgomery this weekend, Tonderai Chavhanga and Sireli Naqelevuki, plus two Springbok halfbacks and they also have a brilliant combination of loose forwards in any permutation from Duanne Vermeulen, Luke Watson, Schalk Burger and Francois Louw.

Why then do they struggle? Their tight five are not really up to it. With average props they need a strong scrummer at hooker, which Schalk Brits is not.

His habit to work less up front than to run with the backline is well-copied by Andries Bekker. They are both very gifted with ball in hand, but that is not their team’s need with runners of the class they have.

The slow ball, because of Ricky Januarie’s continued inability to pass dire

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