Preview: Lions v Hurricanes

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Friday, February 13, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Friday, February 13, 2015, 19:10 (SAST)
Saturday, February 14, 2015, 06:10 (NZDT)

H2H: Played 7, Hurricanes 7, Lions 1

Last time: Hurricanes 30 Lions 28, 02.03.12 in Johannesburg

Squad update: The South Africans boast rosters that dwarf their counterparts in Australia and New Zealand, with Johan Ackermann holding training sessions last week with 41 players before confirming his squad for the Hurricanes.

With the Lions primary feeder union, the ‘Golden Lions’, top of the table qualifiers and beaten Currie Cup finalists last year, the group continues to rely on local talent rather than looking to other provinces in the Republic.

In something of a surprise, 20-year-old hooker Malcolm Marx, dubbed by some as the next Bismarck, has been handed a start ahead of Armand van der Merwe, while Howard Mnisi has been preferred to start in the midfield alongside Lionel Mapoe.

There are no real surprises from Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd, who has opted to name all of his available Test players (Jeremy Thrush is recovering from a calf injury), while Ma’a Nonu is still to be cleared fully fit.

Perhaps with the exception of Thrush, Nonu and Victor Vito, who lurks on the bench as something of a super sub, this looks to be as close as it can be to a first choice starting XV.

The Lions opted to play no Super Rugby teams during their preseason matches, instead playing two composite sides formed from the Leopards and NWU-Pukke XV.

In two matches, the Lions prevailed 33-0 and 45-0.

The Hurricanes played the Crusaders in Eketahuna to commence their warm ups, winning their maiden match of 2015 41-31, before losing a nail biter against the Blues, with the Auckland based outfit prevailing 32-29.

As for the two coaches, there are two different tales to their entry into the campaign.

Lions coach Johan Ackermann was awarded South African coach of the Year in 2014, while Chris Boyd saw his beloved Lions falter and become relegated to the Championship Division of the ITM Cup.

Key players: The Lions starting team features 13 players who ran out onto the field during the 2014 Currie Cup Final, while the bulk of the squad, Super Rugby greenhorns a year ago, have a valuable 12 months of rugby behind them.

Marnitz Boshoff was one of the more influential first five-eighths last year, and with the likes of Elton Jantjies and Jaco van der Walt waiting in the wings, the depth of the Lions playing generals is immense.

In the pack, one doesn’t need to look past captain and number eight Warren Whiteley, backed up by his able lieutenants Derick Minnie and Jaco Kriel. Probably the most mobile South African back row, they play with a New Zealand style of freedom.

For the visitors, attention will focus on the likes of Conrad Smith, with the most capped Test number 13 in New Zealand Rugby playing his final season of Investec Super Rugby.

Alongside him Rey Lee-Lo will want to make the most of his opportunity until the dreadlocked one returns, while former Rebels custodian Jason Woodward will want to translate his stellar kicking form from last year to this.

Up front, the pack has an abrasive look to it and how they perform as the first tourists to play a competition match on South African soil will fascinate.

Considering that it was the Lions who had the best scrum by percentage completion in Super Rugby during 2014 (a feat they backed up during the Currie Cup), and have the forward power to stifle the tourists.