Hurricanes assistant coach John Plumtree expects the Lions to stick to the game plan that has been so successful for them this season. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The Lions were punished by the Sharks for playing high-risk rugby during their quarter-final last weekend, most notably when a quick throw-in by Andries Coetzee was followed by an Elton Jantjies pass that was intercepted and led to a try for Kobus van Wyk.
However, Lions coach Johan Ackermann has insisted his side won't change the way they play for Saturday's semi-final against the Hurricanes, and Plumtree believes that will be the case.
'I expect the Lions to play the way they have been playing as it's proven to be a winning recipe,' he told SARugbymag.co.za. 'They may just be a bit more conservative at the start.'
Plumtree and the Hurricanes squad watched the Ellis Park quarter-final on TV at Sydney Airport last weekend while waiting to find out where they would be travelling to for their semi-final.
'I had a feeling the Sharks would do something different for that game, and for 75 minutes it looked like we'd be flying home to Wellington [for a semi-final against the Sharks],' said Plumtree. 'Obviously when that late kick went over [from Ruan Combrinck], we knew we'd be flying to Johannesburg. It wasn't too difficult for us to make that mental shift as we had been expecting the Lions to win the game beforehand.'
The last time the Hurricanes came to Ellis Park, in April last year, they thrashed the Lions 50-17. While that means the Super Rugby champions won't be intimidated at all by the venue, Plumtree insists that result means little going into Saturday's match.
'That was a regular-season game, and this is a semi-final,' he said. 'There will be a lot more pressure on both teams this time around. The Lions will also have learned from that match, as well as from last year's final [which the Hurricanes won 20-3 in Wellington].
'In saying that, we back ourselves to beat any team. We are focusing on making a good start to Saturday's game, as we've made slow starts in our last three.'
The Lions have won 15 out of 16 matches this season, but have yet to face New Zealand opposition. Plumtree, though, doesn't think that will count against them on Saturday.
'They've played New Zealand teams often enough in the past to know what to expect from us,' he said. 'You could argue that their last three games [against the Bulls and Sharks, twice] weren't as tough as ours [Chiefs, Crusaders and Brumbies], but as I said, this will be a semi-final and a different situation.'
Both flyhalves on Saturday will have a point to prove – Jantjies after a poor performance in the quarter-final against the Sharks, and Beauden Barrett after a quiet series for the All Blacks against the British & Irish Lions. Plumtree says it wouldn't be a surprise if both stepped up at Ellis Park.
'Elton has been consistently good this season. He just had a bad game last weekend, which happens to all 10s. He didn't kick well against the Sharks, but could easily knock everything over against us. I know Elton well, and he would have worked hard during the week.
'This is a big game and we need all of our big players to step up, not just Beauden,' Plumtree added. 'But I know he will be excited by the challenge and will go out and give his best, which is all we can ask of him.'
If the Hurricanes do beat the Lions, they will fly back to New Zealand to face the Crusaders or Chiefs in the final. Plumtree knows all about crazy playoff travel schedules, having flown from Durban to Brisbane (for a qualifier), to Cape Town (for a semi-final), and to Hamilton (for a final) with the Sharks five years ago.
'In 2012, I knew we wouldn't be able to sustain our effort throughout the final [against the Chiefs]. The guys got tired later in the first half and were stuffed in the second [losing 37-6].
'There's no doubt the travel puts a team at a big disadvantage, as it disrupts your preparation, but we [the Hurricanes] would regard it as a great opportunity to fly back to New Zealand for a final.'
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