Saturday’s return leg clash between the Cell C Sharks and Emirates Lions at Emirates Airline Park presents something of a watershed for the two teams chasing their individual goals and aims in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship.

The Cell C Sharks currently occupy eighth position on the log and well within a top eight finish, but with five rounds remaining, know they can ill-afford any slip-ups enroute to the knock-outs.

The Lions, in 13th place on the 16-team log will be desperate for a win, at home, and won’t be easy pickings.

Cell C Sharks Director of Rugby Neil Powell has welcomed a number of players back into the side for this game and believes they will add huge value to the team.

“It’s great to have these quality players back,” he admitted. “Dylan has had a long injury lay-off, Werner struggled with a knee injury and was off for three to four weeks, great to see those guys all back and ready for this Lions game.  Grant Williams is also back and that’s a massive  positive for us. I’m happy with the squad we managed to select, as well as the preparation.

“For us it’s about pitching up and making sure we are ready and focused.”

With the tournament heading inexorably towards the knock-out stages, a top 8 finish is crucial. There is pressure on every side to either fight to make it, or to maintain their positions (or even climb a little higher.

“We all know that the next three games will be important for us, but the focus has to be on us and our performances and the only thing we can control is what we want to achieve this weekend.  So all our focus and energy is on our game and how we want to play. We will make sure that from a mental and physical aspect, we pitch up for this game.

“We’ve done our analysis on the Lions and the threats they will bring and we’ve planned and selected the team accordingly.”

Many teams playing on the highveld have come a cropper, not used to playing at altitude and often running out of steam later in the game, particularly if they’ve been sucked into playing a high energy game.

“It’s going to be important for us to control the tempo of the game, so it’s not always about speeding up the game but also sometimes slowing it down and controlling it, so it’s not so much about chasing the intensity and trying to speed up the game.  Management of the game is going to be crucial and hopefully we get that right.”

Generally, managing the game is important, but crucial to success is starting well so that the team doesn’t find itself chasing the scoreboard

“Starting well gives you the foundation for the rest of the game and it’s crucial for us to understand that we can’t wake up 20 minutes into the match and you’re 21-nil down. So it’s about pitching up from the very first whistle and that’s something we’ve addressed.

“If we can start well like we did against them at Hollywoodbets Kings Park in the first round, it definitely helps to provide that foundation to build on for the rest of the game.”