The Lions need to dictate the pace of the game in order to overcome a formidable Crusaders side at Ellis Park on Friday night, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
After a welcome bye, the Lions will return to action on the hunt for their fourth win in five starts. Already, the Lions have accounted for the Sunwolves, Chiefs and Cheetahs, but the Saders are set to present a different sort of challenge.
As the seven-time champs demonstrated against the Sharks last weekend, this Kiwi side cannot only play with plenty of width, but they also boast a formidable set piece and a well-honed kicking game.
It enabled them to dominate proceedings against the Sharks, with the Crusaders playing the majority of the match entirely on their own terms as they spent plenty of time camped in opposition territory.
This week, the Crusaders coaches have suggested they will need to alter some of their tactics against a Lions side that they expect to offer far more with ball in hand.
‘They shape as, potentially, being the strongest South African team in the competition,’ Crusaders assistant coach Brad Mooar said earlier this week. ‘At the moment they are playing more like a Kiwi side than a traditional South African side. They had the most defenders beaten and the most linebreaks after the first four rounds.’
With this in mind, there’s little doubt that the Crusaders will attempt to force the Lions to play in the wrong areas of the field by pinning them back in their own territory, while looking to keep it tight up front.
It’s likely to present the Lions with a different sort of tactical challenge, and the manner in which they respond will tell us plenty about the maturity and all-round ability of the Johannesburg-based side.
In the one game this season where the Lions came unstuck against the Highlanders, they were guilty of a couple of soft moments when they switched off and conceded two quick-fire counter-attacking tries.
The Crusaders are exactly the sort of side that will look to impose their version of ‘slow poison’ on Friday, applying plenty of pressure and then aiming to pounce on any turnovers or errors that could come from the Lions attempting to run the ball out of their own half.
It’s going to require the Lions to display plenty of mental and physical resolve over the full 80 minutes, but it’s also crucial that they find ways to throw the Crusaders off their game.
At the time of writing, indications suggested that Elton Jantjies was set to take up his place at flyhalf, and this will be crucial to their cause.
Jantjies has performed with maturity and composure throughout this season, and his ability to marshal proceedings with the boot and with ball in hand will go a long way to ensuring the Lions can strike the necessary balance to their game.
If the hosts can achieve parity up front, and keep their wits about them during what will be a severe pressure test from the Crusaders, there is every chance the Lions could come away with another memorable victory, which would also take them to the top of the Africa 2 conference.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Crusaders 7, Lions 2
Johannesburg: Crusaders 3, Lions 2
STATS THAT MATTER
– The Crusaders have won their last six matches against the Lions and have conceded only 13 points combined in their last two matches against the South African side.
– The Lions have won only two matches against the Crusaders in their nine Super Rugby encounters, with the last of those wins in round three of 2007. The other was a 55-23 demolition of the Crusaders in their first-ever encounter in 1996.
– The Lions have won six of their last seven home matches, their only loss in that period coming against the Brumbies in round 14 last season.
– Opposition of the Lions have spent just 12 minutes and 35 seconds of time in possession on average this season, the lowest against any team in the competition.
– Nemani Nadolo has made 10 offloads so far this season for the Crusaders. No player in the competition has made more.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Lions||Elton Jantjies (44)||Courtnall Skosan, Ruan Ackermann (2)||Ruan Combrinck (360)||Warren Whiteley (39)|
|Crusaders||Richie Mo’unga (52)||Nemani Nadolo, Richie Mo’unga (3)||Nemani Nadolo (316)||Jordan Taufau (29)|
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Ben Volavola, 23 Sean Wainui.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)
Waratahs vs Rebels (to come)
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images