PREVIEW: Lions v Blues

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Thursday, March 8, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Match details: Bulls v Blues, Ellis Park, Johannesburg, March 10, 4.15am (NZT)

Played: 11
Won: Lions 4, Blues 7
Last time: Lions 43-5 Blues at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, May 14, 2016

Lions coach Swys de Bruin has named an unchanged starting XV from the side that beat the Bulls last week. However, on the bench, Kwagga Smith is back from compassionate leave with Hacjivah Dayimani and Ashlon Davids also named. For the Blues, Sam Nock gets a start in the absence of skipper Augustine Pulu at halfback. Jerome Kaino returns from injury for his first start of the season at blindside flank, as does Sonny Bill Williams at second five-eighths. Williams will be paired with Rieko Ioane, who gets his chance at centre while Malani Nanai, the competition's leading carrier on metres gained. Stephen Perofeta has been included in the reserves after recovering from his broken hand.

There's one thing all teams know when they venture onto Ellis Park and that's they are in for more than their share of driving lineout mauls. Coach Tana Umaga reinforced that in Johannesburg this week when saying: "The Lions are a formidable team. We well remember our last time here two years ago and we are keen to put that right. They have scored a lot of tries this season off their lineout drive so we have worked hard on this aspect. We need to be disciplined and not give them attacking chances from penalties although at the same time we need to be our usual aggressive selves at the breakdown."

South Africans are calling week four of the competition a 'moving weekend' for the South Africa Conference. That's because the Lions, if they can beat the Blues, stand to get a 13-14 point jump on the rest of the African sides, especially if the Stormers lose to the Highlanders, and that represents a lot of ground for the others to make up if they have not yet toured Australasia. The locals in Jo'burg are wary of the Blues claiming they are better than their two-loss record suggests. Is that a case of talking up the opposition? To anyone who witnessed the Blues' inability to beat an injury-depleted Chiefs side last weekend that would be suspiciously like the case. The Lions will naturally be favoured, especially given all the odds that are facing the visitors.

The much-feared Lions' ability at the lineout has seen them score eight tries from lineout wins in their three games to date. Just to put that in perspective only three teams: the Crusaders, Rebels and Stormers, have scored more than eight tries in their season to date, although the Crusaders and Rebels have played one game less.

The Blues have won only one of their last 10 games in South Africa, letting two half-time leads slip while the Lions have won their last three games against the Blues although they lost their seven previous encounters. (Opta)

Lions: 1. Jacques van Rooyen, 2.Malcolm Marx, 3.Ruan Dreyer, 4.Andries Ferreira, 5.Marvin Orie, 6.Cyle Brink, 7.Franco Mostert, 8.Warren Whiteley (captain), 9.Ross Cronje, 10.Elton Jantjies, 11.Aphiwe Dyanti, 12.Janse van Rensburg, 13.Lionel Mapoe, 14.Sylvian Mahuza, 15.Andries Coetzee.

Substitutes: 16.Robbie Coetzee, 17.Dylan Smith, 18.Jacobie Adriaanse, 19.Lourens Erasmus, 20.Kwagga Smith, 21.Hacjivah Dayimani, 22.Ashlon Davids, 23.Harold Vorster.

Blues: 1.Alex Hodgman, 2.James Parsons (captain), 3.Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 4.Patrick Tuipulotu, 5.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 6.Jerome Kaino, 7.Antonio Kiri Kiri, 8.Akira Ioane, 9.Sam Nock, 10.Bryn Gatland.11.Melani Nanai, 12.Sonny Bill Williams. 13.Rieko Ioane, 14.Matt Duffie, 15.Michael Collins.

Substitutes: 16.Ross Wright, 17.Pauliasi Manu, 18.Michael Tamoaieta, 19.Scott Scrafton, 20.Jimmy Tupou, 21.Murphy Taramai, 22.Jonathan Ruru, 23.Stephen Perofeta.