JON CARDINELLI looks ahead to the Super Rugby semi-final in Johannesburg.
LIONS vs WARATAHS, Johannesburg, Saturday 3:05pm
Can the Hurricanes do the Lions a big favour on Saturday? A win for the Hurricanes in the semi-final in Christchurch will ensure that the 2018 Super Rugby final is staged outside of New Zealand. In a South African context, it will improve the chances of another decider taking place at Ellis Park.
Perhaps the Lions should put such scenarios out of their minds. What they know for certain at this stage is that they have one more hurdle to clear before playing in their third consecutive final.
It’s hard to know what to expect from the Waratahs this Saturday. Australian sides – and the Waratahs in particular – have struggled at Ellis Park over the years.
Daryl Gibson’s side is coming off a taxing quarter-final battle with the Highlanders, and may be hard-pressed to shrug off the travel fatigue. What’s more, the Waratahs may struggle – as so many touring teams have in the past – to adjust to the altitude.
On paper, there are a lot of similarities between the two teams. The Waratahs may be encouraged by the fact that they scored the most points over the course of the conference phase, and have the attack to match that of the Lions.
Like the Crusaders and the Lions, the Waratahs have excelled in the fourth quarter of contests this season, scoring the third-most tries during this period (22) and conceding the second fewest (10). That is a testament to their discipline as well as their fitness, and the latter will be especially important at altitude.
The Lions are starting to hit their stride, though. They emerged convincing winners in the quarter-final against the Jaguares, and it’s clear that the respective returns of Malcolm Marx and Warren Whiteley have made a world of difference to their forward play.
The Lions have a reputation for running rugby, and the Waratahs defence may struggle to contain Aphiwe Dyantyi and Ruan Combrinck out wide. Flyhalf Elton Jantjies was a threat with the boot – those pinpoint attacking kicks compromised the Jaguares last week – and ball in hand in the quarter-final. If these players receive the platform, they will make a game-winning impact.
The Waratahs boast several international stars of their own. Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau are all potential match-winners.
The visitors may not enjoy the same forward platform as the hosts, though. The Lions have been effective at the scrum and boast the best lineout in the tournament.
Their maul has proved difficult to stop, while Marx and Kwagga Smith have wreaked havoc at the breakdown. The Waratahs will miss the influence of Wallabies flanker Michael Hooper in this contest.
It’s a game the Lions should win, given their recent form and the challenges facing the Waratahs. And if the Hurricanes can beat the Crusaders, the Lions may have further cause to celebrate given they will – in that scenario – host their second consecutive final.
Stats and facts
- The Lions have won their last three games on the bounce against the Waratahs, including a 29-0 victory when they met in Sydney earlier this year; the Waratahs had won each of their six meetings prior.
- The Lions come into this game on the back of two wins, the last time they won more was a three-game streak to open the current campaign.
- This will be the Waratahs’ eighth Super Rugby semi-final, with results alternating across their previous seven appearances (won three, lost four); the Waratahs last appeared at this stage in a 2015 defeat to the Highlanders.
- The Lions have beaten 27 defenders per game this season, more than any other team in the competition.
- Israel Folau has scored seven tries in his last five games in a Waratahs jersey in South Africa, as well as contributing two try assists in that span.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Lourens Erasmus, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Hacjivah Dayimani, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Dillon Smit 22 Courtnall Skosan, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley (c), 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Will Miller, 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Jed Holloway, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Tom Robertson.
Subs: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Brad Wilkin, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Cam Clark, 23 Bryce Hegarty.
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