Two sides determined to make it two wins from two in Super Rugby will face off in Johannesburg on Saturday as the Lions host the Waratahs.
Both claimed narrow opening victories last week – over the Cheetahs and Force respectively – to kick off the campaign on a positive note. However there were plenty of areas in each team’s game that will have worried their coaches, particularly a disappointing Waratahs attack.
Defensively in Sydney the Waratahs were the best in the competition in Round One, making 89 percent of their tackles in the 19-13 victory. But in attack they were simply not clinical enough and conceded possession 17 times, with the Force doing a good job of stifling their game.
On a positive hooker Tolu Latu was excellent at the breakdown, winning his men nine points via three penalties, and will need to be on his game again if they’re to stop the Lions building momentum with ball in hand. One fears however the ‘Tahs will struggle to live with their hosts.
While the Waratahs are looking to avoid back-to-back away losses for the first time since Round 16 of 2015, the Lions should be comforted by the fact they picked up a five-point win against the Waratahs when these teams last met, in that aforementioned match in Johannesburg.
The South African outfit have the potential to make successive finals this year – due in part to their draw – and with depth to come off the bench in the form of Malcolm Marx, Kwagga Smith and Faf de Klerk, that ability to change a game when needed makes them a special side.
Another win for the Lions would set them up nicely ahead of a difficult trip to the Jaguares in what is a crucial Africa 2 showdown before they head home to host the Reds and then travel to the Kings. Come out victorious in all those games and they will again be in Africa’s box seat.
The last time these teams met: Their last clash came in Round 16 of Super Rugby 2015 when the Lions ended a run of 11 straight defeats to the ‘Tahs by beating the Aussie side 27-22 in Johannesburg. Two tries from wing Ruan Combrinck and one from centre Harold Vorster, along with 12 points from Elton Jantjies saw them claim the win as the Waratahs’ scorers were Stephen Hoiles, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Rob Horne.
Players to watch: Two tries last week in yet another impressive performance, Rohan Janse van Rensburg showed once again just how vital he is to this Lions side. It must be a welcome sight for Elton Jantjies to have this big carrier with good pace outside him and if he forges an effective partnership with the under-rated Harold Vorster then the Waratahs could find themselves on the back foot and in real trouble.
There promises to be a frantic pace to the game in Johannesburg and the impact of openside flank Michael Hooper is therefore of paramount importance for the ‘Tahs. He simply must match the likes of Warren Whiteley metre for metre and tackle for tackle or the Lions will come out on top. Also keep an eye on outside centre Israel Folau‘s showing as he was uncharacteristically quiet last week and needs to improve.
Team news: The Lions have made three changes to their starting line-up as Harold Vorster, Ross Cronjé and Robbie Coetzee all come into the XV. Vorster is in for Howard Mnisi who injured his knee in the first round clash against the Cheetahs last week. Dylan Smith has recovered from his shoulder injury and comes in on the bench, as does Sylvian Mahuza. Cronjé is set to play his 50th Super Rugby game for the Lions.
Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson has named an unchanged XV with Bernard Foley set to miss another match while he recovers from concussion.
Form: The Lions crucially got off to a winning start in their derby game at the Cheetahs as they prevailed 28-25 thanks to a late try from centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg. That was his second of the fixture while the Lions were also awarded a penalty try in the narrow victory.
The Waratahs also began the campaign with a close-fought victory as they beat the Force 19-13 in Sydney. In a poor game, Will Skelton got the ‘Tahs’ only try in response to Jono Lance’s effort as the boot of Reece Robinson proved to be the difference between the two outfits.
2015: Lions won 27-22 in Johannesburg
2014: Waratahs won 41-13 in Sydney
2011: Waratahs won 29-12 in Sydney
2010: Waratahs won 73-12 in Sydney
2009: Waratahs won 38-33 in Johannesburg
2008: Waratahs won 26-3 in Sydney
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques Van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Sylvian Mahuza, 23 Jaco van der Walt
Waratahs: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Tom Robertson
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 David Lolohea, 19 David McDuling, 20 Senio Toleafoa, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro
Date: Saturday, March 4
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 15:05 local (13:05 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)