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Super Rugby: Southern Kings host the Golden Lions in the first leg play-off
The Southern Kings host the Lions on Friday in the massive first leg of the South African Super Rugby play-off.
Being shown live on Sky Sports 4HD from 6pm, the stakes could not be higher for the franchises in the game, the first of two clashes over the next two weekends to decide who will be the fifth South African team in next year's competition.
The Kings replaced the Lions in Super Rugby this year, finishing bottom of the table in their debut season but recording three wins and drawing great support, with crowds packing out the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth - the venue for Friday's first leg.
The Lions - who formerly played Super 12 as Transvaal and Super 14 as the Cats - had seven years to stake their claim in Super Rugby and are desperate to get back into the elite competition.
Cast into the wilderness of the Vodacom Cup, the Lions did all that could be expected of them last term by winning the competition after beating the Pumas in the final, while they also beat Russia, Mont de Marsan and Samoa in the 'Lions Challenge'.
But they have also have a host of fixtures cancelled, hurting their preparation for the match against the Kings.
In team news, the Kings go into the clash without first-choice leaders Luke Watson and Andries Strauss, who are both out with injuries. The hosts will also be without flyer Sergeal Petersen, whose explosive nature will be missed.
Aside from these three absentees, the side bears only one change to the one which beat the Western Force in the opening game of the season, with Friday's skipper Darron Nell replacing Steven Sykes.
The Lions have been boosted by the return of lock Franco van der Merwe, hooker Martin Bezuidenhout and fly-half Elton Jantjies for the encounter, with the trio back in the squad after Super Rugby loan spells with other franchises.
Kings: 15 SP Marais, 14 Hadleigh Parkes, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Darron Nell, 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Charl du Plessis, 17 Hannes Franklin, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Devin Oosthuizen, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Waylon Murray.
Lions: 15 Ruan Combrinck, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Dylan des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Willie Britz, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Chrysander Botha.
What they said...
Southern Kings director of rugby Alan Solomons
"This match is critical to both franchises. The consequences of these matches are extremely serious."
Golden Lions coach Johan Ackerman
"They (the Kings) want to keep playing in the competition and they've had a taste for it. We want to get back in it. We know how good it is. Both camps have tremendous pressure on them."
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Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com