Lions must neutralise McKenzie

The Lions' kicking game and defence will be under scrutiny when they front the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.

The Lions have a point to prove. While they did enough to claim a bonus-point win in Tokyo last week, their overall performance against the Sunwolves was largely unconvincing.

Can the Lions put together an 80-minute showing that sends a message to all future opponents? They will enjoy a chance to do exactly that in Hamilton this weekend.

The Chiefs are renowned for their attacking play as well as their ability to move up a gear in the final quarter of a contest. After starting poorly in Christchurch last week, they came back strongly to score three tries in the second half. They eventually beat the Crusaders 27-21.

Damian McKenzie was the Chiefs' star player on that occasion. The fullback punished the Crusaders' transgressions through his accurate goal-kicking boot. He capitalised on the poor line-kicking of the Crusaders halfbacks later in the game.

McKenzie was quick to initiate the counter-attack, and beat the first defender regularly to make valuable metres for his team. His skill and strength in contact ensured that the attacking movement didn't die when he was tackled.

The Lions have to ensure that McKenzie and company spend the majority of the coming contest on the back foot. The Lions forwards need to win the battle at the scrum and breakdowns in order to prevent the Chiefs backs from generating momentum.

From there, the onus is on the Lions' halfbacks to take the right options. If they kick poorly out of hand, they will provide the Chiefs' back three with opportunities to counter-attack.

One can expect the Lions to start well. They should be looking to make a physical statement in the first half. It wouldn't surprise to see the visitors leading at the break.

However, the Lions will need to be more consistent in Hamilton than they were in Tokyo. They have to maintain their effort throughout the second stanza if they are to have any chance of claiming their first win against the Chiefs in New Zealand.

The quality of the Lions' defence, as well as their fitness, will be under scrutiny during the second period.

Overall: Chiefs 7, Lions 2
In New Zealand: Chiefs 5, Lions 0

– These sides have faced each other in the second round of the competition once before, in a match that saw 137 points scored (Lions 65 Chiefs 72), the most ever in a Super Rugby match.
– The Chiefs have won 14 and drawn two of their last 18 matches against South African opponents, including victories in their last two such clashes.
– The Lions have won their last three matches outside South Africa, their longest streak in franchise history, and will be aiming to extend that to four matches after a win in Japan in round one.
– Charlie Ngatai made four offloads in the opening round, more than any other player in the competition.
– The Lions were one of only three teams (Brumbies, Sharks) in the competition to score a try in each quarter of their opening round fixture.
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Chiefs Damian McKenzie (12) Seta Tamanivalu, Damian McKenzie, Sam Cane (1) Damian McKenzie (89) Sam Cane (7)
Lions Elton Jantjies (6) Jaco Kriel, Courtnall Skosan, Robbie Coetzee, Lionel Mapoe (1) Ruan Combrinck (78) Warren Whiteley (17)

Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Latu Vaeno, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Maama Vaipulu, 7 Sam Cane (c), 6 Tom Sanders, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Allardice, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Mitchell Graham, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Michael Leitch, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Glen Fisiiahi.

Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrink, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Fabian Booysen, 21 Jaco van der Walt, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg.

Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)

SA Rugby magazine team's predictions

The Money Man's betting tips

Cheetahs vs Stormers

Sharks vs Jaguares

Bulls vs Rebels

Highlanders vs Hurricanes

Brumbies vs Waratahs

Crusaders vs Blues

Reds vs Force

Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

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