All eyes on Boshoff

The Lions need Marnitz Boshoff to fire if they're to mark their first visit to Melbourne with a victory, writes JON CARDINELLI.

The Lions and the Rebels have met just twice before. The Lions won both matches, although it's worth noting both of those victories were achieved at Ellis Park.

This Friday, the Lions will play their first Vodacom Super Rugby match in Melbourne. They will tackle a Rebels side that has already beaten the Crusaders this season, and pushed other big teams like the Brumbies close.

The Lions come into this game on the back of a heavy 34-6 defeat to the Crusaders. They will need to pick themselves up if they're to have any chance against the Rebels at home.

Coach Johan Ackermann has made some significant changes in the wake of that loss. Armand van der Merwe and Ruan Dreyer will start in the front row, while Faf de Klerk and Marnitz Boshoff will feature in the halfbacks. Elton Jantjies has been shifted to No 12.

The Lions scrum was embarrassed by the Crusaders last week. They will have their work cut out for them when they front the Rebels this Friday, as statistics suggest the Melbourne side boasts the strongest scrum in the tournament.

The visitors will need to set a good platform for their backs. In De Klerk, they have a No 9 who will inject some speed and accuracy into their attack. And in Boshoff, they have a flyhalf who can alternate between the kicking and running game.

At least that's the theory. Boshoff made a statement in early 2014 with his all-round performance, and was eventually rewarded with a national call-up. In 2015, however, he has struggled, and was recently dropped for Jantjies.

Boshoff will have an opportunity to set the record straight this Friday. The Lions need him to come good, not only as a goal-kicker, but in general play too.

That 10-12 combination looks good on paper, but I wonder if the Rebels won't look to target Boshoff and Jantjies on defence. And yet, if the Lions pack dominates at the set pieces and gainline, the backline should have an easier time of it on defence.

Overall: Rebels 0, Lions 2
In Melbourne: Rebels 0, Lions 0

– The Rebels have lost their last six matches at home in Super Rugby, with their last three wins all coming away from home (they last won in Melbourne in round 10 last year).
– The Lions have lost eight of their last nine trips to Australia, with those eight defeats coming at an average margin of 24 points.
– The Rebels have never lost seven in a row at home.
– The Melbourne-based side has the worst lineout success rate this season (78%).
– However, they have won the most scrums on average this season (8.8) and only two teams have a better scrum success rate than them (92%).
– The Lions have missed fewer tackles on average this season than any team in Super Rugby (12.8) and only the Hurricanes (90%) can boast a better tackle success rate in 2015 than them (89%).
– Lions flank Warren Whiteley has made the most tackles in the competition this season (63).
– The Johannesburg-based outfit has averaged less than a try per game this season (0.6); the worst record of any team so far in 2015.

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Rebels Mike Harris (49) Lopeti Timani (2) Mike Harris (244) Sean McMahon (56)
Lions Elton Jantjies (28) Ruan Combrinck (2) Andries Coetzee (205) Warren Whiteley (63)

Rebels – 15 Jonah Placid, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Mike Harris, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Tom Sexton, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Steve Cummins, 20 Colby Fainga’a, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Sefanaia Naivalu.

Lions – 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Sampie Mastriet, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Elton Jantjies, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Robert Kruger, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Andries Ferreira, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Harold Vorster, 23 Andries Coetzee.

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Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix

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