Having picked up three wins from three games, the Lions will continue their quest for the Super Rugby title against the Blues on Saturday.
Swys de Bruin’s side – formerly coached by Johan Ackermann – fell at the last hurdle in 2016 and 2017, finishing as runners-up to the Hurricanes and Crusaders respectively. However, their early form suggests they are hungry to go all the way this time.
By contrast, the Blues head into this clash off the back of two straight defeats. Having finished bottom of the New Zealand Conference for four years running, they have left themselves with a mountain to climb in order to avoid falling to the same fate once again.
A good place to start for Tana Umaga’s side would be a win over a team that has been a perpetual thorn in the side of Super Rugby’s Kiwi giants over the last two years.
The Lions knocked the Crusaders and the Highlanders out in 2016 before toppling the Hurricanes in the 2017 semi-finals. In total, the Johannesburg-based side has won four out of their last six games against New Zealand teams and three in a row against the Blues.
To make matters worse, the Auckland-based squad’s flight to Johannesburg via Sydney was delayed by 24 hours due to engineering issues with their plane, meaning they were unable to leave home on Sunday as planned and had to re-plan their match preparation.
After squandering a half-time lead in their last match before losing 27-21 to the Chiefs, Umaga emphasised the importance of standing up and taking responsibility amid adversity.
“Our guys need to start putting their hands up because as you saw there today there were guys in the Chiefs squad that put their hands up who wasn’t even a part of their squad and we need to do that as well,” he said, according to Newshub.
“We have to go play two games against two great teams [the Lions and the Stormers], so it doesn’t get any easier for us.”
The Lions head into the match as favourites, but full-back Andries Coetzee is taking nothing for granted. Having started for South Africa during their 57-0 defeat to the All Blacks last year, he is under no illusions regarding the threat posed by even New Zealand’s so-called lesser side.
“We know how good these guys are, especially with ball in hand, on the counter-attack,” Coetzee is quoted as saying by IOL Sport.
“They’re excellent at capitalising on one’s mistakes so the key for us is to limit our mistakes and keep our discipline…that’s the team that will win.”
Team news: The Lions have named an unchanged starting XV from last weekend’s win over the Bulls. However, Kwagga Smith has been included amongst the substitutes after being granted compassionate leave for the Gauteng derby. Ashlon Davids and Hacjivah Dayimani also come in on the bench, while Marco Jansen van Vuren, Marnus Schoeman and Madosh Tambwe drop out.
Sonny Bill Williams and Jerome Kaino return to the side for the Blues, with the former having been sidelined for a week by a leg injury and the latter now in the starting line-up after coming off the bench against the Chiefs. Rieko Ioane moves from the wing to partner Williams, allowing Melani Nanai to start out wide, while Kaino starts at flank alongside Antonio Kiri Kiri.
Sam Nock replaces skipper Augustine Pulu, who has been ruled out for six weeks with a leg injury. James Parsons takes over as captain in Pulu’s absence, while Stephen Perofeta starts on the bench as he continues his recovery from a hand injury.
2016: Lions won 43-5 in Johannesburg
2015: Lions won 13-10 in Auckland
2014: Lions won 39-36 in Johannesburg
2012: Blues won 25-3 in Auckland
2011: Blues won 41-32 in Johannesburg
2010: Blues won 56-14 in Johannesburg
2009: Blues won 36-12 in Auckland
2008: Blues won 55-10 in Johannesburg
2007: Blues won 41-14 in Auckland
1997: Blues won 63-22 in Auckland
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Franco Mostert, 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Jacobus Adriaanse, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Hacjivah Dayimani, 22 Ashlon Davids, 23 Harold Vorster
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Antonio Kiri Kiri, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Alex Hodgman
Replacements: 16 Ross Wright, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Mike Tamoaieta, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Jimmy Tupou, 21 Murphy Taramai, 22 Jonathan Ruru, 23 Stephen Perofeta
Date: Saturday, March 10
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant Referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Jaco Pretorius (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)