Lions and Cheetahs hope to avoid wooden spoon

The Lions’ resolve will be tested for the last time in this year’s Super Rugby competition when they must fend off a resurgent Cheetahs team in Johannesburg on Saturday to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon.

The Johannesburg-based side have come full circle after making their re-entry to the competition, against the same Cheetahs in Bloemfontein back in February.

Six months ago, the Lions were an unknown factor and given little chance of making it through the season in one piece.

Six victories later, they have acquitted themselves well with a surprise performance in one of the world’s toughest provincial competitions.

Lions coach Johan Ackermann termed his side’s first year back in Super Rugby as an emotional ride, given the uncertainty of how they would perform in the competition.

“If we can win another game, and even if we don’t, it has been a good season for us if you consider where we were and where we are now,” Ackermann said.

“The progress of the team has made, how they came together, their composure, the fight and the character they have shown.”

Ackermann said while they were disappointed by not reaching the playoffs, they had plenty to be grateful for in their season.

“There were highlights of beating the Stormers and the Bulls and the biggest highlight is to see the individuals grow.”

Ackermann said his charges had to be at their best if they wanted to beat the Cheetahs — fresh off a victory over the South African Conference champions the Sharks.

He said the Free State side’s class was underpinned by the amount of players delivered to the Springboks this season.

“They are a side full of exciting Springboks. Then they have the x-factor in Willie le Roux at the back.

“We are playing an inform Cheetahs side and we will have to be at our best to beat them.”

The two sides are traditionally full of running and the fact that it is the last match of the season would suggest both teams would throw caution to the wind for an exciting encounter.

Lions captain Warren Whiteley said his side would brace themselves for a free-flowing match as it was the nature of the teams.

“It is a game that we definitely look forward to because it is an enjoyable game to play in,” Whiteley said.

“There will be some space and time to attack but we know our defence will be under threat and that would be key on Saturday.”

Cheetahs coach Naka Drotske kept his side unchanged as they go in search of their fourth South African scalp of the season.

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