The Lions can make another serious statement of intent with a win over the Hurricanes in Johannesburg on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Since returning from their early-season overseas tour, the Lions have won four out of their last five games. They’ve accounted for the Cheetahs, Sharks, Stormers and Kings to assert themselves as South Africa’s leading Super Rugby side.
Their solitary loss in recent weeks came against the Crusaders when they were well and truly outplayed, and it will now be a considerable test of the Lions’ aptitude and attitude to see what lessons they took out of that game ahead of another clash with a top Kiwi side.
The Lions would surely admit that they failed to make the necessary tactical adjustments against a Saders side that forced them to play a lot of rugby in their own territory and then feasted on errors with the sort of precision that New Zealand rugby has virtually monopolised.
Although the Hurricanes have not quite been at the peak of their powers this season, the fact remains that last weekend’s narrow loss to the Chiefs ended a five-match winning streak. The Canes have also continued to impress with their influence on attack.
According to SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats, the Hurricanes are ranked first for carries (1,012), first for metres made (4,262), second for defenders beaten (202) and third for clean breaks (202).
With this in mind, it’s crucial that the Lions maintain their discipline and cut out errors that could gift the Canes opportunities with ball in hand. In players like Beauden Barrett and Julian Savea, the Hurricanes have both pace and power, while loose forwards such as Victor Vito, Ardie Savea and Brad Shields offer plenty of linking threats.
The Lions won’t move away from the New Zealand-like style of play that has brought them such success, but it’s also crucial for them to add an element of pragmatism to their approach against a side that will feast on loose ball.
In terms of log standings, there’s just a point separating the Lions from the Stormers at the top of the South African group, and it’s now become a case of seeing which side will blink first as the conference stage of the tournament heads into the second half.
The Lions can look forward to a bye next weekend, and so there is certainly the opportunity for them to throw everything at the Hurricanes as they go in search of a result that would once again underline their title credentials.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Hurricanes 8, Lions 1
Johannesburg: Hurricanes 4, Lions 1
STATS AND FACTS
– The Hurricanes have won eight of their nine meetings with the Lions, with a defeat in 2007 the only blemish in this run.
– In each of the Lions’ last 12 games, the half-time result has mirrored the full-time result, including a 19-19 draw with the Stormers in round 17 last season.
– The last time the Hurricanes lost a game to a South African team was a one-point loss to the Stormers in round three of 2014.
– The Hurricanes have lost fewer than one lineout per game so far this season – no team averages fewer – and their lineout success of 93% is the best in the competition.
– The Lions are the only team yet to concede a try from opposition possession originating from a scrum.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Lions||Elton Jantjies (109)||Ruan Combrinck, Akker van der Merwe (4)||Ruan Combrinck (566)||Franco Mostert, Warren Whiteley (65)|
|Hurricanes||Beauden Barrett (100)||Beauden Barrett (5)||Beauden Barrett (445)||Ardie Savea (88)|
Lions – 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Dylan Smith.
Substitutes: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 JW Bell, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
Hurricanes – 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Vince Aso, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Reggie Goodes.
Subs: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Blade Thomson, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 James Marshall, 23 Willis Halaholo.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Ben Crouse (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Photo: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images