The Lions need Warren Whiteley to lead from the front if they are to finish their tour with a win against the Force in Perth on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The No 8 has had an excellent Super Rugby season with ball in hand, on defence and at the lineout (see stats below). After a promising start that resulted in four wins, the Lions have suffered six defeats in a row, but their pack has continued to impress. Whiteley is a big reason for that, and has formed a good loose-trio combination with Derick Minnie and Jaco Kriel.
The Lions' problem continues to be the lack of firepower in their backline. Their only try against the Waratahs last week was scored by a forward (Kriel) and they have scored the fewest tries in the tournament (17 in 12 matches, including just four first-half tries). Unfortunately for them, they will be up against one of this year's best defensive teams on Saturday. The Force have conceded only 21 tries in 12 matches, the third-best record behind the Waratahs (19) and the Sharks (16).
Lions coach Johan Ackermann has made a massive 11 changes, including one positional switch, for this match. There is a new-look tight-five, with Corné Fourie, Armand van der Merwe and Ruan Dreyer in the front row, and Rudi Mathee and Franco Mostert in the second row. The backline has also been reshuffled, although Marnitz Boshoff has been retained at 10 with Elton Jantjies staying on the bench.
Meanwhile, the Force have made two changes to their line-up, with Dane Haylett-Petty and Wilhelm Steenkamp starting at right wing and No 5 lock respectively.
The last time the two teams met, in Perth in 2012, the Force beat the Lions 17-11.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Force 5, Lions 1
In Perth: Force 2 Lions 1
WHITELEY'S STATS THAT MATTER
126 – The number of tackles he's made in Super Rugby this season (Rank 4)
37 – The number of lineouts he's won on his own throw (Rank 8)
5 – The number of lineouts he's stolen (Rank 9)
4 – The number of try assists he's made (Rank 12)
Source: Vodacom Stats App
Force – 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Chris Tuatara-Morrison, 12 Luke Burton, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Justin Turner, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Patrick Dellit.
Lions – 15 Coenie van Wyk, 14 JW Jonker, 13 Deon van Rensburg, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Rudi Mathee, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Willie Britz, 20 Stephan de Wit, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Stefan Watermeyer.
Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix