PREVIEW: Lions v Crusaders

Getty Images

Thursday, March 31, 2016    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

The Crusaders know how to beat the Lions, historically. They have won their last six matches and in the nine times they have played the Lions have only won once. But a stronger Lions team this year has won six of their last seven home games and they have fashioned a great defensive record in which opposing teams have managed only an average of 12 minutes 35 seconds in possession of the ball – the lowest of any team.

South Africans revel in the play of their No.8s – it's as much a part of their loose forward legacy as the openside flanker is in New Zealand rugby. And two of the finest in the trade around the world go head-to-head in this contest. Kieran Read is starting to show signs of the devastating form he showed in 2014 which is good news as he looks to take over the leadership of the All Blacks in June, but the South Africans have Warren Whiteley stepping up for the Lions where he has been an inspirational player for them in 2016. The powers who be in the South African game will be looking on this contest as a potential trial for Whiteley to see how he stands up to one of the key players in the world game.

The Lions are well used to the conditions that make Ellis Park such a ground for stupendous kicking, goal-kicking especially and no matter which first five-eighths eventually plays for the Lions, the injured Elton Jantjies, a prospective Springbok this year, or Marnitz Boshoff, they will have some dangerous firepower. The Crusaders will be a little concerned until Richard Mo'unga regains his best goal-kicking touches after some disappointment in Durban last week. But should there be a chance for some long range blockbusters to be attempted don't forget that David Havili is well able to give the ball a decent nudge.

Just how good is Crusaders' lock Scott Barrett? The selectors seem keen to have him involved as often as possible and this week none other than Samuel Whitelock has made way for him and Luke Romano to be tried as a combination. There's no doubting he has ability in his genes as the third brother to play Super Rugby and he has shown enough to suggest he has a great longer term future. Competing against some of the tall timber from the South African veldt will be a good test for him and his future may be a little clearer in the wash-up from this contest on Saturday.

Faf de Klerk will be looking for a big game for the Lions. Now that one of the great players of the modern era Fourie du Preez has called time on his career there is an opening in the Springbok ranks and de Klerk has been playing well enough through the early stages to warrant a call-up. He's up against 2011 Rugby World Cup winning halfback Andy Ellis who has been back to his finest form for the Crusaders this year and the way de Klerk performs will be another important consideration for the Springbok selectors.

1.Dylan Smith, 2.Malcolm Marx, 3.Julian Redelinghuys, 4.Andries Ferreira/Lourens Erasmus, 5.Franco Mostert, 6.Jaco Kriel, 7.Warwick Tecklenburg, 8.Warren Whiteley (captain), 9.Faf de Klerk, 10.Elton Jantjies/Marnitz Boshoff, 11.Courtnall Skosan, 12.Howard Mnisi, 13.Lionel Mapoe, 14.Ruan Combrinck, 15.Andries Coetzee.

Substitutes: 16.Armand van der Merwe, 17.Corne Fourie, 18.Ruan Dreyer, 19. Ruan Ackermann, 20.Cyle Brink, 21.Dillon Smit, 22.Jaco van der Walt, 23.Rohan Janse van Rensburg

1.Wyatt Crockett, 2.Codie Taylor, 3.Owen Franks, 4. Luke Romano, 5.Scott Barrett, 6.Jimmy Tupou, 7.Matt Todd, 8.Kieran Read (captain), 9.Andy Ellis, 10.Richie Mo'unga,11.Nemani Nadolo, 12.Ryan Crotty, 13.Kieron Fonotia, 14.Johnny McNicholl, 15.David Havili.

Substitutes 16.Ben Funnell, 17.Joe Moody, 18.Mike Alaalatoa, 19.Sam Whitelock, 20.Jordan Taufua, 21.Mitchell Drummond, 22.Ben Volavola, 23.Sean Wainui.