Lions will bring Currie Cup form into Super rugby

The Lions will get their first chance to show that they can translate Currie Cup success into Super Rugby glory when they take on the Cheetahs in their season opener at Ellis Park on Saturday.

The hosts, incidentally, ended their 17-match losing streak against the Bloemfontein-based side with a 25-20 away win early in the 2011 season but were thrashed 53-17 in the return match in Johannesburg.

Lions coach John Mitchell said this week they had immense respect for the Cheetahs and were bracing for a tough match.

One of the expected on-field battles will be fought between the Cheetahs’ young pretender, Johan Goosen, and the Lions’ playmaker pivot Elton Jantjies.

While Jantjies already has Super Rugby experience and a Currie Cup title behind his name, the 19-year-old Goosen will be thrown into the deep end in his Super Rugby debut.

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske said it would be crucial for his side to start their campaign on a positive note, as they faced an early tour of Australasia.

“It’s going to be a very tough game, we know that,” Drotske said.

“It’s never easy in Johannesburg, and we’re facing a team that can build on a very good victory in last year’s Absa Currie Cup.

“It would be a mistake to underestimate the momentum they got from that triumph.

“Winning there would be the ideal start for us, because we face the Bulls next week and then we leave on tour.”

Contrary to previous years, the Cheetahs have had fewer disruptions with player departures, which should give them continuity going into the competition.

“It won’t be easy and although we have good depth and some exciting youngsters coming through, we’re mindful of how things can change from one year to the next,” Drotske said.

In Cape Town, the Stormers will kick off their Super Rugby campaign against the Hurricanes on Saturday.

The Stormers were South Africa’s most successful franchise in 2011, reaching the semi-finals where they lost 29-10 against the Crusaders at Newlands.

The Western Cape franchise’s coach, Allister Coetzee, said his side needed to gel from the start against a largely unknown force.

“We’ll have to make sure that we do the basics well, and keep in mind the importance of the first game [of the season],” Coetzee said.

“They may have a few unknowns but from what I can see they’re all really good rugby players.”

Stormers skipper Schalk Burger said they would not underestimate their opponents, who had been affected by the departure of a number of key players.

“You can’t take any New Zealand franchise for granted, because they’ll always produce quality players,” Burger said.

“This may be a different side but you can rest assured that they’ll be a tough side.

“Traditionally, the Hurricanes have always finished in the top half of the standings.”

Coetzee named Springbok winger Bryan Habana at outside centre where he will be tested by seasoned All Black centre and Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith.

One of the Stormers’ greatest weapons will be their attacking backline, with piercing runners like Gio Aplon, Joe Pietersen and Gerhard van den Heerden named in the team.

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