Ockert de Villiers - Sport24
Johannesburg – The Lions will be looking for a solid start in order to contain the attack-minded Highlanders in their Super Rugby match in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Lions captain Warren Whiteley this week highlighted the need for his side to gain early ascendancy as the Johannesburg side look to break the habit of playing catch-up rugby.
Quite sobering is the fact that the Lions have trailed at the break in seven of their last eight matches but managed to win six.
This could perhaps be one of the main reasons for Lions coach Johan Ackermann decision to select a halfback paring that is more tactically inclined.
Staring at flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff has the ability to direct the match with the boot before Elton Jantjies is unleashed to attack the line along with Faf de Klerk at scrumhalf.
The Lions are understandably taking a cautious approach against a Highlanders side that put seven tries past the struggling Sharks in Dunedin.
The Highlanders possess one of the most potent attacking units in the country with the likes of Malakai Fekitoa and Waisake Naholo a skip and a jump away from wreaking havoc with the ball in hand.
Whiteley said the team has done some fine-tuning to their set-pieces but paid special attention to their defence in preparation of an all-out assault by the Highlanders.
“We try to prepare the same for every game no matter who we come up against. But we are facing a New Zealand side and we know it should be an exciting game and our defence should be on the ball,” Whiteley said.
“We just want to improve and particularly at our set-pieces. We look forward to being back at our home-ground again.”
Ackermann hoped the tactical changes to the team would pay-off as he also believed the early kick-off at 15:00 would be one of their allies.
“I think our bench can really make a difference in this match, we’ve rotated some of the players and hopefully the starting XV will lay a strong foundation before we send on the replacements,” Ackermann said.
Meanwhile, Lions wing Courtnall Skosan wore a poker face when he was asked about the prospect of facing leading try-scorer Naholo.
Naholo has been an attacking kingpin for the Highlanders this season with eight tries behind his name so far.
“Every single week in Super Rugby is a challenge for you, so it is always exciting to go out there and face some of the best players in the world,” Skosan said.
“We watched a bit of the game and obviously the Highlanders are on a high now and having travelling it also counts against you.”
One could sense the Lions were looking for revenge following their narrow defeat to the Bulls last weekend which struck a serious blow to their hopes of reaching this year’s playoffs.
Knowing that the match could have swung either seems to reinforce the team’s belief that they deserve to be in a better position on the log than the 10th place they currently occupy.
“It was sad for us to lose against the Bulls, it was only a two-point difference and I think we gave them two easy tries in the beginning,” Skosan said.
“I don’t think the team needed a wake-up call, we just fell a bit short there, we could have won that game.”
15. Andries Coetzee, 14. Ruan Combrinck, 13. Harold Vorster, 12. Alwyn Hollenbach, 11. Courtnall Skosan, 10. Marnitz Boshoff, 9. Ross Cronje, 8. Warren Whiteley (captain), 7. Warwick Tecklenburg, 6. Jaco Kriel, 5. Franco Mostert, 4. Andries Ferreira, 3. Julian Redelinghuys, 2. Robbie Coetzee, 1. Schalk van der Merwe
Substitutes: 16. Akker van der Merwe, 17. Jacques van Rooyen, 18. Ruan Dreyer, 19. Robert Kruger, 20. Ruaan Lerm, 21. Faf de Klerk, 22. Elton Jantjies, 23. Howard Mnisi
15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (co-captain), 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames
Substitutes: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Brendon Edmonds, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Elliott Dixon, 20 John Hardie, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Jason Emery