The Lions will be looking for another big performance from captain Warren Whiteley against the Reds in Brisbane, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
When the Lions left for Australasia having lost their first three matches of the tournament, including two at Ellis Park, few would have given them much chance of winning three out of four tour matches. Yet that is what they will achieve if they can beat the Reds on Saturday.
And it's a match the Lions should expect to win, having already beaten the Blues in Albany and the Rebels in Melbourne. The Reds have been rubbish this season, suffering two big defeats against the Brumbies, including one at home two weeks ago in which they were lucky to score zero.
However, the Reds, who had a bye last weekend, have been boosted by the return of four key backs from injury – Quade Cooper, James O’Connor, Samu Kerevi and Lachie Turner. It's Cooper who could make the biggest impact even though he hasn't played since the Wallabies' end-of-year tour, having fractured his collarbone during pre-season training with the Reds.
The Lions, meanwhile, have revamped their backline, with Elton Jantjies returning to flyhalf after playing 12 last weekend, and Ross Cronjé replacing Faf de Klerk at scrumhalf. Cronjé has been slow to the breakdown this season and will need to improve in this aspect if the Lions are to get the quick ruck ball they need. Elsewhere, Harold Vorster starts at inside centre, Ruan Combrinck comes in on the right wing with Sampie Mastriet shifting to the left, while Andries Coetzee returns at fullback.
While Jantjies' battle with Cooper could be decisive, the Lions' key man will once again be their captain.
Whiteley has been on the field for all 480 minutes of his side's 2015 campaign so far. While he's done well as a ball-carrier it's on defence that he's made the biggest impact, making more tackles than anyone else in the tournament (89). He's also done well at the lineout, securing four of his side's throws and stealing four of the opposition's.
Whiteley's captaincy credentials were enhanced when the Lions fought back from 13-0 down after 12 minutes to beat the Rebels 20-16, and he may need to play a similar calming role if a Cooper-inspired Reds get off to a flyer.
The Lions will take heart from the fact that they have won two of their last three games at Suncorp Stadium, and also beat the Reds at Ellis Park last year.
Another victory on Saturday and they will return to South Africa in a far, far better frame of mind than when they left four weeks ago.
HEAD TO HEAD*
Overall: Reds 11, Lions 4
In Brisbane: Reds 2, Lions 2
*Excludes Cats matches
STATS AND FACTS
– The Lions won this fixture last year but they have never managed consecutive victories against the Reds.
– The Lions were victorious in two of their last three visits to Suncorp Stadium, though this run dates back to 2007.
– The losing side has scored exactly 20 points in the last two meetings between the sides, as well as the last three at Suncorp Stadium.
– The Reds (7.8) and Lions (13) rank last and second-last for average points this season.
– The Reds are the only side yet to score a try in the opening quarter of matches.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Reds||Lachlan Turner (13)||Marco Kotze, Lachlan Turner, Jake Schatz (1)||Chris Kuridrani (196)||Adam Thomson (51)|
|Lions||Elton Jantjies (38)||Ruan Combrinck (2)||Andries Coetzee (238)||Warren Whiteley (89)|
Reds – 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthiny Fainga'a, 11 James O'Connor, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Curtis Browning, 6 Adam Thompson, 5 Dave McDuling, 4 James Horwill, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper (c).
Subs: 16 Saia Fainga'a, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Marco Kotze, 20 Michael Gunn, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Ben Tapuai, 23 Chris Feauai-Sautia.
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 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Robert Kruger, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Martin Muller, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Howard Mnisi.
The Money Man's betting tips (to come)
Photo: Paul Crock/AFP Photo