Preview: Highlanders v Lions

Date published: March 11 2016

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The defending champions, the Highlanders, host the Lions in what promises to be an exciting clash in Dunedin on Saturday.

Both these sides head in to this fixture brimming with confidence after registering important victories last weekend.

After losing their opener against the Blues, last week's 17-16 victory over the Hurricanes would have boosted the Highlanders' morale.

The Dunedin side will thus be keen to make it two from two before their bye next weekend. They are currently in third position in the New Zealand conference, with five points from the first two rounds.

The Highlanders have won their last six matches at home and haven't lost to a South African side since the Cheetahs beat them in 2013. 

The Lions have experienced more success in the last three encounters between these sides. The Johannesburg side are currently in the second position in a group that includes the Sharks, Jaguares and Kings.

Fly-half Elton Jantjies is in superb form and his creativity allowed the Lions' back-line to attack with ease in their victory over the Chiefs last weekend.

Jantjies along with scrum-half Faf de Klerk were the outstanding performers in that encounter. After their win over the Sunwolves in their opener and notching their first ever triumph on New Zealand soil last week, the visitors will look to make it three from three on tour before heading home to face the Cheetahs at Ellis Park.

A victory on Saturday will see them extend their unbeaten record outside of South Africa to five.   

The last time these teams met: Three second-half Lions' tries saw them beat the New Zealanders 28-23 in Johannesburg in Round 12 last year. The defending champions were leading 20-3 at the break. But Courtnall Skosan, Jaco Kriel and Harold Vorster each went over in a space of 15 minutes as the Lions made a comeback. The Highlanders would however go on to win their maiden title, eight games later.

Players to watch: Right wing Ruan Combrinck has made a total of 201 metres for the first two rounds, beating a total of 9 defenders. A new centre combination in the form Rohan Janse Van Rensburg and Howard Mnisi will certainly have to be up to the challenge against formidable opposition. The half-back pairing of Jantjies and de Klerk were instrumental in last week's game against the Chiefs. Jantjies dictating matters at fly-half, he certainly will be watch by the Highlanders back row.

Smith has made a total of three offloads in competition, which at face value does not sound like much but only five other players have executed more offloads. He is also the full-back with the most amount of offloads, which is testament of him linking in with the back-line on attack. The ability of Lima Sopoaga being able to break the initial line of defense allowed the powering Malakai Fekitoa to score what was the deciding try in last week's victory over the Hurricanes.

Team news: Highlanders' Josh Hohneck and Tom Franklin get a break from the starting 23. Siosiua Halnukonuka will get his first start as Hohneck's replacement at tighthead prop while Alex Ainley replaces Franklin in the middle row. Luke Whitelock moves from number eight to blindside flanker making way for Liam Squire at the back of the scrum. Dan Pryor will start at openside.

In the backs hard running midfielder Rob Thompson will make his debut for the Highlanders at inside centre and Jason Emery, who performed well last week, will again look to make an impact from the bench. Smith will captain the side.

Meanwhile it will be a new centre pairing for the Lions in the form of Howard Mnisi and Rohan Janse van Rensburg replacing Lionel Mapoe. Vorster has returned home after injuring his left knee again. Jaco Van der Walt replaces Andries Coetzee in a rotational move to full-back, Coetzee has been named on the bench.

Jacques van Rooyen gets his first start in the front row with Robbie Coetzee back at hooker. Ruan Dreyer starts in a rotational move which sees Julian Redelinghuys drop down to the bench. New centre Jacques Nel will warm the bench while Dillon Smit also earns a spot among the reserves for the first time this season.

Form: The Highlanders' season got off to a very shaky start compared to last year. Having lost to the Blues in the first round and a narrow one-point victory last week against the Hurricanes got their campaign back on track.

The Lions on the other hand have had success in the first two rounds, with victories against newcomers the Sunwolves in Round One and a historic one over the 2013 champions in Hamiltons last week.

Prediction: Lions are on a high following their historic win last week, the defending champions will however want to get some momentum of their own. Highlanders by seven.

Previous results:

2015: Lions won 28-23 in Johannesburg    
2014: Highlanders won 22-23 in Dunedin
2011: Lions won 26-22 in Dunedin
2010: Highlanders won 29-39 in Dunedin
2009: Lions won 27-22 in Johannesburg
2008: Highlanders won 20-29 in Dunedin

The teams:

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Dan Pryor, 6 Luke Whitelock, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siosiua Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Brendon Edmonds
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Shane Christie, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Jason Emery

Lions: 15 Jaco Van Der Walt, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnal Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf De Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Warwick Tecklenberg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques Van Rooyen
Replacements: 16 Armand Van Der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Ruan Ackermann, 21 Dillon Smit, 22.Jacques Nel, 23 Andries Coetzee

Date: Saturday, March 12
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock
Assistant Referees: Jamie Nutbrown, Kane McBride
TMO: Aaron Paterson

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