Preview: Stormers vs Lions

Searching for a breakthrough in a bleak season, the last-placed Stormers host the upstart Lions at Newlands.

Allister Coetzee's men have enjoyed a bye week off from a hellish campaign in which they occasionally have gone down fighting – on tour against the Chiefs and Crusaders – or simply not turned up.

Injuries have played a role – their second row is decimated and that's some blow when you account for the absence of Eben Etzebeth, Manuel Carizza and De Kock Steenkamp. As a result their lineout is the worst in the competition statistically, with a success percentage of 75.5. Their chief spark, Gio Aplon, is also out. It's safe to say luck hasn't been on their side.

Weirdly for a team that has only won one of their first seven matches, the Stormers have the fifth-best defence in the competition.

The age-old problem is their attack. The Stormers are only scoring an average of 15 points per game, have only scored 10 tries, and their total of 105 points is the lowest in the competition by some margin, with the Rebels the next lowest on 169.

Success will be impossible unless this improves and moving Peter Grant to fullback certainly isn't the answer. The Stormers can attempt to kick the Lions to death, but will fail.

To condemn the Stormers further, no team has made fewer carries and fewer metres and offloads. Their scrum, to buck the trend, is actually the tournament's best on 91%.

If only that scrum was providing a platform for the Stormers' backs to break out. Juan de Jongh and Jean de Villiers are class acts, while Sailosi Tagicakibau have Damien de Allende have both proven they can finish.

While the Stormers are depressingly conservative, the Lions have surpassed all expectations set for them in 2014.

Oddly enough they have only scored one more try than the Stormers, but thanks to the accurate and productive kicking of tournament top-scorer Marnitz Boshoff find themselves sitting third in the South African conference. They have won four matches, when nobody expected them to win one. Put that down to a hard-working group that appear well-drilled by Johan Ackermann and brimming with fighting spirit.

Stars are slowly emerging. The Lions are getting the best out of Lionel Mapoe at outside centre, while Faf de Klerk is combining well with Boshoff.

Jaco Kriel deserves more accolades in an eight led well by Warren Whiteley, who is one of the top tacklers this year with 96. Even with Springbok lock Franco van der Merwe seemingly out for the rest of the season, this is still a pack that can hold its own.

Against the Sharks the Lions sucked their visitors into a battle they couldn't get out of. It was an ugly scrap of an 80 minutes best forgotten, but the Lions subdued the Super Rugby leaders. Now they travel to Cape Town and no doubt will rely on Boshoff's boot for victory against a tough Stormers' defensive wall.

Should the Lions need to open up the game and bring in the likes of Anthony Volmink, Stefan Watermeyer and Mapoe, they know how to do so. Their attack isn't the best, but it's considerably better than their opponents.

Stormers – 15 Peter Grant, 14 Damian de Allende, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Michael Rhodes, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Devon Williams, 23 Jaco Taute.

Lions – 15 Chrysander Botha, 14 Courtnall Skosan, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Willie Britz, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 JW Jonker.

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Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

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