The Lions will be looking to turn around their recent slump in form when they travel to take on the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday.
The last time the Lions lost more in a row was a three-game drought at the beginning of the 2015 season. But there is no need for panic stations as the Johannesburg outfit sit comfortably atop the South African Conference and remain on course for qualification.
Recent Highlanders-Lions clashes have been hard to call, with the winner alternating in the last 10 meetings between the sides.
The Lions’ only victory in Dunedin came back in 2011 which doesn’t bode well for them.
The Highlanders have won 10 of their last 10 home matches while the Lions have lost three of their last five away from home and their last two on tour, against the Reds and Hurricanes.
And Swys de Bruin’s charges know how important a win is to end off their tour on a positive note.
After a 29-0 blanking of the Waratahs in their opening tour match in Sydney, they have slipped to successive defeats. A win here would mean they would come away with a 50 percent win ratio from their tour, instead of 25 percent due to one win in four should they lose.
That 2016 semi-final defeat (the last time the sides met) will still be fresh in many of the Highlanders’ minds and for this reason the Lions could hold the psychological advantage.
But when on song, the Highlanders have been known to turn it on while they also play an excellent tactical kicking game which the Lions need to be wary of.
Usually one would expect the South African side’s scrum to have the edge but it is a different proposition as they have a new-look front-row and are most noticeably without talismanic hooker Malcolm Marx, who will be a huge miss.
The Lions do though finish strongly and the Highlanders will need to be aware of that. Only the Crusaders (15) have scored more tries in the final quarter of games this campaign than the Lions (14); the Highlanders have just seven tries in this period.
The Highlanders are in fifth place on the overall conference, one point above the Chiefs on the same number of games. Meanwhile, last year’s beaten finalists the Lions are second ahead of what should be a thrilling top-of-the-table clash.
Team news: Highlanders head coach Aaron Mauger has rested scrum-half Aaron Smith for Saturday’s clash. Smith’s place will be taken by Kayne Hammington.
James Lentjes will play at seven with Dillon Hunt earning a break and Tevita Nabura will make his second appearance of the season on the left wing while Josh Dickson and Marino Mikaele Tu’u will provide fresh legs off the bench.
Mauger is glad to be back at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
“We are all looking forward to the opportunity to be back at home to meet the significant challenge the Lions will provide,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lions head coach Swys de Bruin has made several changes to his starting XV.
Robbie Coetzee comes in at hooker, where he takes over from the injured Malcolm Marx, while Johannes Jonker replaces Jacobie Adriaanse in the front-row.
There are two new locks with Andries Ferreira and Marvin Orie packing down in the second-row. This means captain Franco Mostert moves to the blindside flank where he takes over from Cyle Brink, who shifts to the openside, and Kwagga Smith continues at number eight.
The back-line will stay the same as against the Hurricanes last weekend.
The bench will be made up of three front-rowers, Jacques van Rooyen, Ruan Dreyer and Adriaanse. They will be joined by Lourens Erasmus, Marnus Schoeman, Dillon Smit, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Sylvian Mahuza.
2016: Lions won 42-30 in Johannesburg
2016: Highlanders won 34-15 in Dunedin
2015: Lions won 28-23 in Johannesburg
2014: Highlanders won 23-22 in Dunedin
2011: Lions won 26-22 in Dunedin
2010: Highlanders won 39-29 in Dunedin
2009: Lions won 27-22 in Johannesburg
2008: Highlanders won 29-20 in Dunedin
2007: Lions won 11-06 in Johannesburg
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Nabura, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Aki Seuili, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Patelesio Tomkinson
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrink, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Franco Mostert (c), 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Johannes Jonker, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith
Replacements: 16 Jacques Van Rooyen, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza
Date: Saturday, May 12
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)