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Lions face unpredictable Cheetahs

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“The Cheetahs have a good set-piece, they like to attack from everywhere and we’re sure they’ll try to speed up the game”

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Having come back to win after trailing quite significantly at half-time in their two previous games, Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen admitted he doesn’t quite know what to expect from the Free State Cheetahs in tomorrow’s Currie Cup final in Bloemfontein.

Against Western Province in their final round-robin game the Cheetahs won 38-33 after being 12-26 down at half-time, while last week in the semi-final against the Sharks Franco Smith’s men won 51-30 after trailing 11-20 at the interval.

“We’ve got to be ready . . . you never know what to expect from the Free State,” Van Rooyen said yesterday.

He added his team would have to produce an 80-minute effort to get the better of Smith’s men, who’ve shown recently they’re able to click into a different gear in the final 20 minutes.

“The Cheetahs want to play in the final 20 to 30 minutes; we’re aware of that, so we’re going to need to go the full 80,” said Van Rooyen.

He added a number of different factors played a part in how teams performed in the latter, crucial stages of matches.

“It might be conditioning, but it might also be the type of players you bring on from the side . . . lots of things make a difference.”

The Lions though have also been a good second-half team this year and against the Pumas, Western Province and the Cheetahs staged quite remarkable fight-backs in the final 40 minutes to win.

“The Cheetahs have a good set-piece, they like to attack from everywhere and we’re sure they’ll try to speed up the game,” said Van Rooyen. “We just have to stay in the moment, and focus on what we want to do. It’s that simple.”

Lions captain Ross Cronje agreed with Van Rooyen that this weekend’s final presented an “exciting opportunity” for the team and the youngsters who’ve worn the red and white jersey this season.

“I really don’t know how many finals I’ve played in, but it’s always exciting,” said the 30-year-old scrumhalf.

“There’s nothing better than running out in front of 40 000 fans. Of course the Cheetahs will be the favourites because home ground advantage counts, but we’ve been a bit better away from home this season anyway, so maybe it’s just a mindset thing,” he said, referring to the away wins registered by his team in Cape Town, Bloemfontein and Kimberley this year.

“The youngsters coming through in our team will play anywhere, anyway.”

He added the Lions’ 24-22 win against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein in round-robin play a few weeks ago would count for nothing on Saturday.

“That was three, four weeks ago now, and it’s in the past,” said the scrumhalf. “And, this is a completely different challenge, a whole new ball-game, it’s a final.

“There’s a bit more pressure (than the last game), but the youngsters also don’t know what pressure is these days.”

In the only change to the Lions team that beat Griquas in the semi-final last weekend, loosehead prop Sti Sithole misses out after tearing his calf muscle in training on Thursday, opening the way for Dylan Smith to start. Rookie Nathan McBeth comes in on the bench.

The Cheetahs, meanwhile, have also made a few changes from last week’s win against the Sharks. Flank Gerhard Olivier swaps places with Abongile Nonkontwana, while Charles Marais comes in on the bench in place of Schalk van der Merwe.