The Lions will have a serious point to prove when they come up against the Blues at Ellis Park on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
The Johannesburg-based side has had a week for introspection after this past weekend’s timely bye, which followed their 50-17 humbling at the hands of the Hurricanes.
That clash was expected to provide insights into just how far this Lions side has come and their ability to add some pragmatism to their play against an ambitious ball-in-hand New Zealand side. In the end, the Canes feasted on errors and turnovers, with their impressive line speed on defence also throwing the Lions off their game.
The Lions have now lost their last thee games against Kiwi opposition, having been outplayed by the Highlanders, Crusaders and Hurricanes since their historic win over the Chiefs in week two.
Although the Lions are now set to come up against the bottom-ranked New Zealand side, they certainly can’t afford to concede as many soft moments as they did against the Canes. As illustrated by SARugbymag.co.za’s Opta-powered stats, the Lions conceded a whopping 25 turnovers, while the Canes benefited from two intercept tries.
It’s why the Lions could argue that they simply need to improve their accuracy and execution in order to return to winning ways against a Blues side that battled to put the Kings away last weekend.
The Lions certainly had enough possession and created a number of opportunities against the Hurricanes, but they failed to make the most of it. There’s no doubt that a big focus this weekend will be on ensuring they build pressure and then convert that into points.
The Lions’ loss to the Canes, coupled with the Sharks’ win over the same opposition this past Saturday, has also thrown the race for top honours in the Africa 2 conference wide open. Suddenly just a point separates the Lions and Sharks, although the latter has played the extra game.
It adds extra importance to this game for the Lions, with four of their six remaining conference games to be played at Ellis Park. The hosts have been boosted by the availability of flyhalf Elton Jantjies and front-row duo Malcolm Marx and Julian Redelinghuys, and it should provide them with the necessary firepower to overcome the Blues.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Blues 7, Lions 3
In Johannesburg: Blues 3, Lions 2
STATS AND FACTS
– The Lions have won their last two games against the Blues. Previously they had never won back-to-back games against the Auckland-based side, losing seven of the eight games between them prior to that.
– The Lions are the most dangerous side in the 20 minutes before half-time this season so far, scoring the most points (97) and having the best points differential in this period (+55).
– The Lions (27.6) and Blues (27.1) have averaged the most defenders beaten in Super Rugby in 2016.
– No side has enjoyed more possession than the Blues this season, an average of 18 minutes and 10 seconds per game.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Lions||Elton Jantjies (111)||Akker van der Merwe (5)||Ruan Combrinck (616)||Warren Whiteley (72)|
|Blues||Ihaia West (110)||Melani Nanai (4)||Tevita Li (401)||Blake Gibson (81)|
Lions – 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 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 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 George Moala, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Hoani Matenga, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Kara Pryor, 20 Joe Edwards, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 Male Sau.
Referee: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Pro Legoete (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Photo: Michael Bradley/AFP Photo