JOHANNESBURG, July 20 – Saturday’s Super Rugby quarter-final between the Lions and Sharks in Johannesburg will only be the fifth all-South African playoff in the history of the competition, which is now in its 22nd season.
And with the visitors winning two of the four derby knock-outs, the KwaZulu-Natalians will be fancying their chances against last year’s runners up at Ellis Park, even though they will have to half a 13-match home winning streak by the Lions.
This weekend, the Sharks will also want to use their playoff experience to good effect. This will be their 14th Vodacom Super Rugby knock-out encounter, making them South Africa’s most-experienced side when it comes to do-or-die matches.
The Sharks – who have lost their last five matches against the Lions – were the receiving end of a home defeat when they lost the 2007 final in Durban. A few years later though, in 2012, they produced a massive upset by travelling back from Brisbane to beat the table-topping Stormers in a Cape Town semi-final.
That was one of seven defeats in eight playoff appearances for the Stormers – a less-than-ideal historical trend they would like to reverse when they host the Chiefs in the last quarter-final on Saturday, in what will be their ninth appearance in a Super Rugby playoff.
The Capetonians have only ever won one of these – back in 2010 – and will be keen to send the Kiwis back to Waikato on the back of their second knock-out victory.
The Stormers – along with the Sunwolves the only non-Kiwi team to have beaten New Zealand sides this year – have won six of their 10 encounters with the Chiefs at DHL Newlands and lead their overall duel by 10-9. However, it’s in the playoffs where the men from Waikato hold the upper hand, having won six out of 11 knock-out matches compared to the Capetonians’ one from eight.
In terms of team selection, all three sides have opted for continuity. The Emirates Lions’ match-23 is unchanged from last week and Springbok wing Ruan Combrinck will earn his 50th cap at this level.
For the Sharks, Junior Springbok Curwin Bosch’s inclusion at flyhalf, for Garth April, who moves to the bench, is the only change to their squad from last weekend.
And the Stormers have recalled fit-again fullback SP Marais and flank Rynhardt Elstadt in the only changes to their starting line-up, with Dillyn Leyds moving to wing, and Seabelo Senatla and Sikhumbuzo Notshe moving to the bench, where they will be joined by Oli Kebble and Wilco Louw.