The Lions will look to recover from a shock Super Rugby defeat to the Blues when they host the Sunwolves at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Despite their first loss of the season, Swys de Bruin’s side still tops the South African conference with 15 points from four games. They will fancy their chances of returning to winning ways against the only team in the tournament which has yet to record a victory.
However, Jamie Joseph’s charges will look to exploit the South African side’s defensive frailty. The Lions have conceded a total of 100 points in their last three matches — all in their home province of Gauteng against less-fancied opponents. The Sunwolves’ New Zealand-born coach emphasized the importance of being clinical ahead of Saturday’s game.
“We had many opportunities in the last game with the Sharks [a 50-22 loss], but we did not perform well enough to capitalize on them, and it was disappointing,” Joseph said.
“We should have scored more points when we had possession in their territory. Based on the performance of the Sharks game, we have made a few changes and have some players returning.”
De Bruin is aware of the threat posed by the Japanese team, but has urged his players not to beat themselves up over last week’s disappointment, which saw them lose to another unfancied opponent.
“That match is in the past and we are looking forward to once more playing home in front of our supporters. The Sunwolves showed a lot of improvement, but we will focus on our goals,” he said.
Team news: Scrum-half Yutaka Nagare returns to captain the Sunwolves. Wing Hosea Saumaki also comes back into the side, while William Tupou moves to outside centre. Wimpie van der Walt is promoted from the bench to partner Kazuki Himeno at lock. In the loose trio, Lappies Labuschagne comes in at openside flanker with Yoshitaka Tokunaga moving to no.6 and Michael Leitch to eight. Jiwon Koo gets the nod at tighthead prop, lining up alongside Yusuke Niwai and Craig Millar.
Franco Mostert captains the Lions from openside flanker, having earned the right to fill in for the injured Warren Whiteley with a fine series of performances. Debutant Len Massyn fills Whiteley’s eight jersey, while props Dylan Smith and Jacobie Adriaanse get the nod in the starting XV this week. Lourens Erasmus lines up alongside Marvin Orie at lock, while Harold Vorster returns at outside centre with Rohan Janse van Rensburg moving to the wing.
2017: Lions won 94-07 in Johannesburg
2016: Lions won 26-13 in Tokyo
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Francois Mostert (c), 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Jacobus Adriaanse, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Shaun Reynolds
Sunwolves: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Lomano Lemeki, 13 William Tupou, 12 Michael Little, 11 Hosea Saumaki, 10 Harumichi Tatekawa, 9 Yutaka Nagare, 8 Michael Leitch (c), 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 5 Wimpie van der Walt, 4 Kazuki Himeno, 3 Jiwon Koo, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Craig Millar
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Shintaro Ishihara, 18 Hencus van Wyk, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Willie Britz, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Ryoto Nakamura, 23 Ryuji Noguchi
Date: Saturday, 17 March
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17:15 local (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Egon Seconds (South Africa), Stephan Geldenhuys (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)