The Lions will need to overcome David Pocock's presence at the breakdown if they're to triumph over the Brumbies at Ellis Park on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Expectations are growing in Johannesburg. While coach Johan Ackermann has done his best to keep talk of a play-off place to a minimum, victory over the Australian conference leaders will bring a new wave of optimism.
Both teams enter Saturday's match on either side of a tight result – the Lions edged the Highlanders on the highveld, while the Brumbies went down by a single point at Newlands. The scenario might've been very different had Christian Leali'ifano converted Pocock's late try down in Cape Town.
It is testimony to the grit of this Brumbies side that they still managed to come so close despite taking a beating at the scrums and on the penalty count. Some may point to the Stormers' bluntness on attack, but that would be to discredit the work done by Pocock and his band of breakdown bandits.
They pushed the boundaries at the breakdown and got their just reward. They were able to kill the Stormers' momentum and forced a number of crucial turnovers, which should probably have resulted in a victory.
The Lions are a side that has thrived on quick ball this season. Slow down their service and you can nullify their threat. The Highlanders managed numerous turnovers during the first half last weekend and this was reflected on the half-time scoreboard.
Their failure to impose themselves in this area of the game in the second stanza left them exposed. The Brumbies would've noted this and will adjust accordingly. Pocock remains one of the best breakdown specialists in the game, and his battle with the Lions' loose trio will be one to savour.
And while the Brumbies are expected to struggle in the scrums, their lineout remains one of the most effective in the competition. If they can disrupt the Lions' possession at the lineouts, they can stop the rolling maul at the source. Without the front-foot ball provided from this area of the game, the Brumbies will be able to limit the influence of Faf de Klerk and Elton Jantjies.
It was no coincidence that the Lions got going after their introduction against the Highlanders and they will once again have a pivotal role to play in Saturday's match. The Lions will also welcome back the influential Lionel Mapoe, albeit on the wing, with Alwyn Hollenbach and Harold Vorster afforded the opportunity to continue with their burgeoning partnership in midfield.
The Brumbies are not without changes of their own, and the inclusion of Matt Toomua will greatly improve their chances at Ellis Park. Toomua was in great form before an ankle injury laid him low for a month, but his return will add an extra dimension to a Brumbies attack that's been lacking in previous matches.
There's very little to choose between these sides, with just two points separating them on the overall log. Playing on the highveld and in front of their home fans, the Lions should have the edge, but a superb individual performance from Pocock may be enough to sway the result the Brumbies' way.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Brumbies 5, Lions 3
In Johannesburg: Lions 2, Brumbies 2
STATS AND FACTS
– The last two meetings between these sides, which took place in 2011 and 2012, were won by the away side on the day (one win each).
– Indeed, the last four meetings between the sides have yielded two wins apiece but no losing bonus points.
– The Lions have trailed at half-time in eight of their last nine matches but have won seven of those nine matches (including one when they led at half-time). Every single one of those wins came by a margin of five or fewer points.
– The Brumbies have led at half-time in their last two games but went on to lose both.
– The Brumbies boast the best lineout (91%) in the competition, while the Lions’ is the second worst (79%).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Lions||Elton Jantjies (113)||Harold Vorster, Faf de Klerk, Ruan Combrinck, Warwick Tecklenburg (3)||Andries Coetzee (560)||Warren Whiteley (170)|
|Brumbies||Christian Leali'ifano (114)||David Pocock, Joe Tomane (4)||Henry Speight (506)||Christian Leali'ifano (98)|
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Ruan Combrinck, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Robert Kruger, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joseph Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Rory Arnold, 4 Sam Carter, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Allan Alaalatoa.
Subs (two to be omitted): 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 JP Smith, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Blake Enever, 22 Michael Dowsett, 23 Robbie Coleman, 24 James Dargaville, 25 Nigel Ah Wong.
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix