Second in New Zealand faces first in South Africa in Wellington on Saturday as the Hurricanes and Lions meet in what should be a thriller.
These two last clashed in a memorable semi-final at Ellis Park which the Lions won in a 73-point spectacle that had controversy and drama. Revenge could well be in the air then at Westpac Stadium for the Hurricanes as they look to make it eight straight victories on this superb run of results.
While they lost that knockout game in 2017, regular-season meetings between the pair have been extremely positive for the Hurricanes, who have won their last seven league matches on the bounce against the Lions, scoring 30 plus points in all but one of those Super Rugby victories.
Furthermore the Hurricanes haven’t lost a home game against South African opposition since Round 11, 2013, against the Stormers; they have picked up 10 wins on the trot since that defeat and with the Lions out of sorts at the Reds last week, that record could well be extended.
Indeed the Lions’ form on the road has been far from ideal viewing for head coach Swys de Bruin as his outfit have lost two of their last three away matches and will be looking to avoid back-to-back on-the-road defeats in a single regular-season for the first time since 2014.
The Lions have the personnel to beat any side in Super Rugby and despite sitting pretty in South Africa, they do appear more fragile this season. If the Hurricanes click, and with fresh legs returning to boot, it is tough to look past anything other than a home success.
The last time these teams met: The Lions came back from 22-3 down on 38 minutes to beat the Hurricanes 44-29 in last season’s semi-final in Johannesburg. Tries from TJ Perenara, Wes Goosen, Ardie Savea and Ngani Laumape provided the majority of the visitors’ points but the Lions dominated the second 40, Jacques van Rooyen, Ross Cronje, Malcolm Marx, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies and Kwagga Smith all scoring.
Team news: Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd has made four tweaks to his starting XV, with the return of Ngani Laumape from a week’s break seeing Vince Aso drop out of the squad. Laumape’s return is the only change in the backs but there have been three made in the pack.
Prop Jeff Toomaga-Allen swaps places with Ben May and there’s been a similar switch in the loose forwards where Gareth Evans comes in for Reed Prinsep while Vaea Fifita returns to the second-row after a week off. He combines with Michael Fatialofa in the ‘Canes’ engine room.
The only other alteration to the squad comes in the reserves with Ihaia West coming in for Jackson Garden-Bachop. Nehe Milner-Skudder, who made a welcome return to rugby in the last quarter of last weekend’s 43-15 home victory over the Sunwolves, will again come off the bench.
Meanwhile, Lions head coach Swys de Bruin has rung the changes for the clash in Wellington, making eight alterations to his starting side.
In the back-line Aphiwe Dyantyi replaces Madosh Tambwe, Lionel Mapoe joins Harold Vorster at centre while Nic Groom starts at scrum-half.
Up front there are starts for flankers Cyle Brink and Marnus Schoeman while Franco Mostert moves into the locks alongside Lourens Erasmus.
Completing the changes Jacobie Adriaanse and Dylan Smith come in for Ruan Dreyer and Jacques van Rooyen as the new props for the fixture.
2017: Lions won 44-29 in Johannesburg
2016: Hurricanes won 20-03 in Wellington
2016: Hurricanes won 50-17 in Johannesburg
2015: Hurricanes won 22-08 in Johannesburg
2012: Hurricanes won 30-28 in Johannesburg
2011: Hurricanes won 38-27 in Wellington
2010: Hurricanes won 33-18 in Wellington
2009: Hurricanes won 38-32 in Johannesburg
Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Julian Savea, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields (c), 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 James O’Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Ben May, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Vince Aso
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 Cyle Brink, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Franco Mostert (c), 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Hacjivah Dayimani, 21 Ashlon Davids, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Sylvian Mahuza
Date: Saturday, May 5
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keefe (New Zealand), Richard Kelly (New Zealand)
Television match official: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)