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big fish games

In many ways, it's a clash of today's stars against those of tomorrow.

Also, it's a match in which reputations will be enhanced or diminished.

The Sharks, with no less than 13 Springboks in their match-22, are firm favourites to bring the cock-a-hoop Lions back down to earth when they meet in Durban in Round 2 of the Super 14 on Saturday.

'Every game is tough'
The visitors are riding high following their win against the Cheetahs a week ago, but, in simple player depth and experience, they have nothing on their hosts.

They have six Boks in their ranks, but two of those are on the bench, while Ashwin Willemse and Henno Mentz are still in the process of rebuilding their careers after respectively being plagued by injury and falling out of favour at the Sharks.
Heinke van der Merwe has one Test cap, which leaves centre Jaque Fourie as the only regular Bok in the Lions side.

In contrast, the Sharks have class in every department, with most of the players having featured regularly in Super 14 and Bok sides for the last number of years.

It is surprising, then, to hear Lions coach Eugene Eloff say the challenge awaiting his side on Saturday is no different to that posed by the Cheetahs a week ago.

"It is a perception the match againjavascript:void(0)st the Sharks is bigger than it was against the Cheetahs," said Eloff on Thursday.

"Every game is tough, the only difference this week is that we're away from home."

That may be the case, but Eloff and the players are only fooling themselves if they believe the Sharks and Cheetahs are of the same calibre.

This Sharks team is a formidable one, as they showed at Newlands last Saturday by turning around a 15-0 deficit to finally triumph 20-15.

Both Eloff and Lions captain Cobus Grobbelaar battled this week to point out any weaknesses in John Plumtree's outfit.

Eloff shied away from the question, while Grobbelaar said yesterday: "All teams struggle against quick turn-over ball, no matter how strong the defensive lines are, so if we manage to create that kind of ball, we can challenge them."

Grobbelaar, though, is confident his side can cause what would be a major upset.

"We have to believe in our chances. We know they're a good, well-balanced outfit and have tons of experience, but we relish these opportunities ... every player here believes in his own abilities, believes in the Lions game-plan and the structures we've put in place."

Victory for the visitors would seriously put the cat among the pigeons and while it seems unlikely, stranger things have happened.

Just two years ago, the Lions went to Durban and beat the Sharks to qualify for the Currie Cup final.

A similar result cannot be ruled out, but it's going to take something very special from a side who have yet to prove they have the big-game players to match those of greater experience on a regular basis.

And, of course, besides the five log points on offer, there's the not-so-small matter of individual pride that will be at stake.

Mentz will want to show up his former employers; Willemse faces a big test against JP Pietersen; Jaque Fourie is up against the man who "stole" his Bok No13 jersey, Adrian Jacobs; Earl Rose faces current Bok flyhalf Ruan Pienaar; and scrumhalf Jano Vermaak clashes with former Lion Rory Kockott, both stars of the future.


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