Vodacom Super Rugby
Lions confident after opener
Johannesburg - With the first round of Super Rugby matches in the bag, and their opposition weakened by the loss of seasoned All Black campaigners, the Lions will relish the prospect of a second victory on the trot this weekend.
They face New Zealand tourists, the Hurricanes, in a Super Rugby match at Ellis Park on Friday, banking on the confidence they gained from their narrow 27-25 victory over the Cheetahs last Saturday.
Their triumph was in no way convincing but the winning feeling will hold them in good stead ahead of the Canes clash.
The Hurricanes got their 2012 Super Rugby campaign off to a shaky start when they were uprooted 39-26 by the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday.
The visitors received three yellow cards in the match and also played with 13 men for a couple of minutes.
If the Canes improve on their discipline, they might pose a serious threat to the Johannesburg-based side.
Their sluggish performance could offer the Lions some comfort but as captain Joshua Strauss observed, most of the teams dished up indifferent performances over the weekend.
“I think they [Hurricanes] started slow but they are a very good team,” Strauss said.
“Many of the teams struggled to switch on in the first week.”
The Canes will be feeling the effects of losing notable stalwarts Ma’a Nonu, Hosea Gear and Piri Weepu, among others, this season.
History, however, favours the visitors with the Lions’ last win over the Canes dating back to 2007 when they won 30-7 in Johannesburg.
“Like any other team, they will learn from their mistakes and come hard at us from the start,” said Strauss.
“They started off slow and finished well, so I think we will have a very tough match on our hands.”
The Lions were unimpressive against the Cheetahs and struggled particularly in the lineouts, which deprived them of one of the game's essential attacking platforms.
As a result, this facet of the Lions’ game received special attention in training this week.
The side’s coach John Mitchell also responded by promoting young lock Stephan Greeff to the starting XV in the hope of remedying the problem.
“Without it (lineout ball), we were good to win and we had some good play at times," said Mitchell.
"Imagine what we will be like when we do get some lineout ball.”
Mitchell said the Hurricanes would - despite their shortcomings - be a force to be reckoned with.
“They are going to have huge desire on the weekend and it is important that we out-will that desire because they weren’t far away in that contest against the Stormers and they will take a lot of heart and positives from that,” he said.
“I think it is going to be a good contest because both teams will be hungry."
If the match yields another close encounter, the Lions will again rely heavily on the boot of talismanic flyhalf Elton Jantjies - who set the Super Rugby record for the most penalty conversions with his nine penalty goals against the Cheetahs.