The Reds and Lions square off in what should be a highly charged Super Rugby encounter at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday.
The Reds have only passed the 20-point mark once this season and that was in their 45-21 defeat to the Brumbies three weeks ago. The Queensland outfit are the least prolific outfit in the competition with 1.9 tries per game while the Lions are the top try-scorers, boasting an impressive strike rate of 5.9 per fixture.
After that mid-season wobble, the Lions appear to be back on track and firing on all cylinders. Their strength in depth is such they are able to call on a player of Rohan Janse van Rensburg’s calibre to fill the void left by the injured Lionel Mapoe, as last year’s beaten finalists look to make it three wins on the bounce.
Their most recent victory, a 29-0 blanking of the Waratahs, was every bit the stuff made of champions. Should Swys de Bruin’s charges win on Saturday, it will be their seventh victory in a row over Australian opposition, winning by an average margin of 15 points per game in that time. It will also be their fourth successive triumph in a row against the Reds.
In the teams’ last meeting, the gulf in class was exposed as the Lions recorded their biggest ever win over the 2011 champions – a 44-14 drubbing in Round Four last season.
Meanwhile, Reds coach Brad Thorn has sent a message to his team after four consecutive defeats by handing four players their first starts of the season.
Veteran flanker George Smith, exciting young winger Jordan Petaia, prop JP Smith and fly-half Hamish Stewart all get the starting nod for the first time this season. It will be a big test for Stewart at fly-half and Petaia on the wing, both players making the first Super Rugby starts of their careers. However, it is a nice blend of youth and experience and one can see that ex-All Black Thorn has a long-term vision in mind.
“We’ve got a big challenge ahead of us this weekend. The Lions, being last year’s finalists, are an impressive team. It’s no secret we were disappointed with how we started the match last weekend and the guys are determined to get back out there and put in an 80-minute performance,” he said.
“We’ve been forced into making some changes due to injury, but the guys getting the nod have been working hard and deserve an opportunity in the starting side.
“It’s an exciting moment for Hamish and Jordan, earning their first starts in Super Rugby. They’re talented, hard-working young men who will make the most of the opportunity.”
The last time the teams met: As mentioned, the Lions recorded their biggest win ever over the Reds in Round Four action in Johannesburg last season. It was the Courtnall Skosan show as the speedy winger grabbed four tries, while Jaco Kriel, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Malcolm Marx also chipped in as the Ellis Park outfit romped to a 44-14 victory.
Team news: The Reds have made four personnel changes to their XV for the match, with George Smith, Jordan Petaia, JP Smith and Hamish Stewart getting the nod.
Regular starters James Slipper and Jono Lance, along with Scott Higginbotham, have been ruled out of the match due to injury so centre Samu Kerevi has been named captain.
Petaia, who recently became the Reds’ youngest-ever Super Rugby debutant, has earned his first Super Rugby start on the wing, ahead of Izaia Perese, who has shifted to the bench.
JP Smith, in his run-on debut for the Reds, has been brought into the starting side to replace Slipper, who has been ruled out due to a collar bone injury sustained against the Waratahs two weeks ago.
Stewart has been promoted in place of Lance, who is still recovering from a concussion suffered in last weekend’s match.
Lions head coach Swys de Bruin has made one change to his XV that beat the Waratahs with Rohan Janse van Rensburg the man to come into the line-up as he takes the place of Lionel Mapoe, who is sidelined with a groin strain. That means a reshuffle to the midfield as Harold Vorster moves into the 13 position.
On the bench Johannes Jonker, Cyle Brink and Ashlon Davids are called in as the Lions look to strengthen their position in the South African Conference.
2017: Lions won 44-14 in Johannesburg
2015: Lions won 18-17 in Brisbane
2014: Lions won 23-20 in Johannesburg
2012: Reds 34-20 in Brisbane
2011: Reds won 30-25 in Johannesburg
2010: Reds won 41-26 in Johannesburg
2009: Lions won 31-20 in Brisbane
2008: The teams drew 24-24 in Johannesburg
2007: Reds won 26-20 in Brisbane
Reds: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Filipo Daugunu, 13 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 12 Samu Kerevi (c), 11 Jordan Petaia, 10 Hamish Stewart, 9 Ben Lucas, 8 Caleb Timu, 7 George Smith, 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Jean-Pierre Smith
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Harry Hoopert, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Harry Hockings, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Duncan Paia’aua, 23 Izaia Perese
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Madosh Tambwe, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Dillon Smit, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Franco Mostert (c), 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Marnus Schoeman, 22 Nic Groom, 23 Ashlon Davids
Date: Saturday, April 28
Venue: Suncorp Stadium
Kick-off: 15:05 local (05:05 GMT)
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Damon Murphy (Australia)
TMO: Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)