Blues lock Patrick Tuipulotu's blend of physique and finesse will be too much for the Lions to handle in Albany on Friday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
The Blues have lost their first three matches in a Vodacom Super Rugby season for the first time in their history. It won't be four.
Things might've been different had they finished off the raft of chances they created against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. A 50% strike rate from their tour of South Africa would've been deemed a pass.
As it is, they currently find themselves in 14th position, above only their visitors this weekend, the Lions. The men from Johannesburg might also have taken victory at the weekend, but they failed to close out the match against the Stormers.
Good sides find a way to win the close matches – something neither side has done this season.
After missing the start of the season through injury, Tuipulotu made a massive impact on his first start against the Cheetahs. His ability to fend off would-be defenders while looking for the offload caused havoc in the Cheetahs defence, with one of his six offloads resulting in a try for Charlie Faumuina.
He made 11 carries during an impressive 73 minutes, but it was the metres he gained and the passes he found that made his performance all the more impactful. The Lions will need to cut him down early, and often, if they're to make off with a rare victory on New Zealand soil.
Keven Mealamu will make a record 163rd Super Rugby appearance in one of five changes to the side that fell short in Bloemfontein. He's joined in the front row by Ofa Tu'ungafasi, who replaces Tony Woodcock, while Steven Luatua comes into the back row in place of Brendon O'Connor.
Elsewhere, Francis Saili returns at inside centre, while Frank Halai will make his first appearance of the season on the wing.
Johan Ackermann has made two changes to his side, with Ross Cronjé coming in at scrumhalf for Faf de Klerk, who moves to the bench, while Corné Fourie will make his first start of the season at loosehead.
The Lions have showed plenty of endeavour this season, without truly troubling their opposition. The Blues, with their array of game-breakers, look set to continue their domination of the Lions on home soil.
Something has to give in this basement battle, and with the indomitable frame of Tuipulotu battering away, it may just be the Lions' defensive wall.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Blues 12, Lions 4
In Auckland: Blues 6, Lions 1
STATS AND FACTS
– Ihaia West has the best goal-kicking success rate (14/15; 93%) of any player to attempt more than two shots at goal this season.
– The Lions rank last for clean breaks (five), while the Blues rank second in this aspect (24).
– The Lions (55) and Blues (83) have averaged the lowest number of completed tackles per game so far, however no team has missed fewer than the Lions (nine).
– The Lions scored more points against the Blues (39) in their meeting last year than in any of their previous 15 meetings with the Auckland-based outfit.
– This fixture has seen an average aggregate score of over 57 points, with three of the last four clashes between the two yielding 70 or more.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Blues||Ihaia West (38)||Jimmy Cowan, Charlie Faumuina, Jerome Kaino, Luke Braid (1)||Lolagi Visinia (200)||Brendon O'Connor (22)|
|Lions||Marnitz Boshoff (15)||Warwick Tecklenburg, Ruan Combrinck (1)||Andries Coetzee (114)||Warren Whiteley (29)|
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Charles Piutau, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Jerome Kaino (c), 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Brendon O'Connor, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Hamish Northcott.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Photo: Lee Warren/Gallo Images