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Much to prove in Super Opener

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Coach Du Preez has made some key changes to the side that lost the Currie Cup final

Warren Whiteley of Lions eager to get his team off to a solid start against the Sharks tomorrow in their Super Rugby opener. Picture: BackpagePix

Tomorrow’s big Super Rugby opener between the Lions and the Sharks at Ellis Park is massively intriguing on a number of levels.

The Sharks were so good for so long in the Currie Cup last year only to falter as the finishing line approached while the Lions are looking to prove that life after coach Johan Ackermann will be just as good under his former trusty assistant, Swys de Bruin, now head coach, and they have what it takes to finally nail a title after two unsuccessful finals.

The Sharks are hungry as heck, make no mistake, they have trained innovatively doing all their drills with ball in hand and, make no mistake that Currie Cup final defeat, will still hurt.

It is an important season for them under coach Robert du Preez. They have done well to keep together the core of their young 2017 group and they are all a year older and experienced, as is Du Preez as a coach at Super Rugby level.

He also has fresh coaching blood in the form of the highly experienced and ever colourful and positive Dick Muir.

A victory for the Sharks will be huge for their confidence, especially at a ground where they have had some unfortunate and controversial setbacks in recent years.

A vagary of the Super Rugby draw means the Sharks have a bye next week before their first home match, the third-round fixture against the Waratahs. How dearly the Sharks will want to bank at least four points before the untimely bye.

Coach Du Preez has made some key changes to the side that lost the Currie Cup final.

He has moved Thomas du Toit to tighthead prop to loosehead and in that position has given a starting opportunity to Juan Schoeman, the 26 year-old schooled at Affies in Pretoria and an SA Under-20 representative in 2011.

Schoeman starts ahead of stalwart Tendai Mtawarira, who Du Preez says was given extended leave that excluded him from the two warm-up games but has resulted in the veteran being well rested and fighting fit for the season. The coach said The Beast will be given about 30 minutes off the bench.

Another Bok who will play off the bench is No 8 Dan du Preez, who has been struggling with a groin injury of late. Keegan Daniel will start in the position. Du Preez’s twin brother, Jean-Luc, is still recovering from the ankle injury he sustained in the Currie Cup final and is a few weeks away from playing.

In the backline, Andre Esterhuizen slots in at inside centre for Marius Louw after having been rested from the warm-up games because of his heavy workload for his club in Japan.

Louw has been in good form but there is no doubting Esterhuizen’s pedigree.

In what will be a lively back three, Sbu Nkosi is picked on the wing ahead of Kobus van Wyk, with Makazole Mapimpi on the other wing and Lwazi Mvovo at fullback.

From the bench, Van Wyk can cover centre and wing. Curwin Bosch is another who finds himself on the bench covering a variety of positions, notably flyhalf and fullback.

TEAMS

Lions (15-1): Andries Coetzee, Sylvian Mahuza, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronjé, Warren Whiteley (c), Cyle Brink, Kwagga Smith, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Jacques van Rooyen. Bench: Robbie Coetzee, Dylan Smith, Jacobie Adriaanse, Marvin Orie, Marnus Schoeman, Hacjivah Dayimani, Howard Mnisi, Rohan Janse van Rensburg.

Sharks (15-1): Lwazi Mvovo, Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am, André Esterhuizen, Makazole Mapimpi, Robert du Preez, Cameron Wright, Keegan Daniel, Jacques Vermeulen, Philip van der Walt, Stephan Lewies, Ruan Botha (c), Thomas du Toit, Franco Marais, Juan Schoeman.

Bench: Akker van der Merwe, John-Hubert Meyer, Beast Mtawarira, Hyron Andrews, Dan du Preez, Michael Claassens, Kobus van Wyk, Curwin Bosch