Lions and ’Canes set for cracker
While the history between the teams suggests the Lions don’t like playing against the Hurricanes – or rather, their results suggest they battle against the men from Wellington in New Zealand – both sides will feel they have plenty going for them today.
Swys de Bruin’s Lions put together arguably their best performance of the campaign in downing the Stormers 41-22 last Saturday, while the Hurricanes, who’re now coached by former Sharks boss John Plumtree, got the better of the Durban-based side 30-17.
Confidence, then, will be high in both camps and even more so when the last month’s results are factored into the equation.
The Lions have won their last three home games since their overseas tour – against the Waratahs, Highlanders and Stormers – and have been on the right side of the result in 10 of their last 12 home matches.
But the Hurricanes are a team who don’t mind travelling and will go into today’s fixture in the knowledge that they have won their last four games on the road this year: against the Highlanders, Sunwolves, Blues and Sharks.
But the biggest thing going for Plumtree and his ’Canes men is the fact they have won nine of their last 10 matches against the Lions, home and away.
They’re a team who seem to have the edge when they face De Bruin’s men and that doesn’t bode well for the hosts today.
And right now they need every win they can get, because it’s going to come down to the final round-robin game next week to determine whether they play in the quarter-finals.
All five teams in the SA Conference are still in the running to feature in the knockout rounds, which means every point earned will be like gold dust to the sides.
As things stand going into today’s fixtures, the Jaguares lead the way with 41 points after 14 games, followed by the Bulls (36 points from 15 games), the Lions (35 from 14), Sharks (33 from 14) and Stormers (30 from 14).
The Lions will today hope to continue the good form they showed against the Stormers, and there’s every chance they’ll do that considering De Bruin has virtually been able to pick the same team that did duty then.
A late change, though, has seen lock Stephan Lewies being ruled out through injury, with rookie Reinard Nothnagel coming in for his first start at this level.
But all eyes will be on flyhalf Shaun Reynolds, who’s been retained in the team ahead of Elton Jantjies, who didn’t play last week but sits on the bench today. Reynolds will be up against the impressive All Blacks star Beauden Barrett.
Interestingly, the Hurricanes have opted to bench one of their key men, flank Ardie Savea, who is the competition’s leading turnover man, having won 22 breakdown steals so far, including six last week in Durban.
It points to one thing - the Hurricanes are looking to hit the Lions hard for the full 80 minutes.
There are stars, game-breakers and X-factor men in both outfits, so expect a high-scoring affair. The team that defends best will more than likely be the side that bags the points today.@jacq_west