Preview: Lions v Blues

Date published: May 13 2016

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There should be plenty of thrilling action when the Lions host the Blues in their Super Rugby hit out in Johannesburg on Saturday.

Both sides enjoy the ball in hand approach so don't be surprised if this encounter is a high scoring affair with plenty of tries scored.

The sides' expansive playing styles have certainly paid off with the Lions (27.6) and Blues (27.1) averaging the most defenders beaten of all the sides in Super Rugby 2016.

Time wise, no side has enjoyed more possession than the Blues this season, with an average of 18mins 10sec per game.

The Lions enjoyed a bye last weekend, but are trying to get their campaign back on track after they were on the wrong end of a 50-17 result at the same venue against the Hurricanes two weeks ago.

The home side will be buoyed by the fact that they have won their last two matches against the Blues. Before those victories in Albany and Johannesburg, Johan Ackermann's troops never won back-to-back games against the men from Auckland, losing seven of the eight prior to that.

The Lions have lost their last two home matches with that defeat against the Hurricanes preceded by a Round Six loss to the Crusaders. They have not lost more in a row on home soil since 2012 when they lost five consecutive matches.

The Blues have got their campaign back on track in recent weeks, after some mixed results earlier in the competition. They might be at the bottom of the standings in the New Zealand Conference, but they certainly haven't disgraced themselves, winning five of their nine matches played so far.

The form of the teams from the land of the long white cloud has been so impressive that the 25 points which the Blues have amassed from their previous matches is just two less than the Lions, who are sitting at the top of the Africa Conference Two table.

The last time these teams met: These sides faced each other last year in Round Four in Albany with the Lions condemning the Blues to their fourth successive defeat after claiming a hard-fought 13-10 victory. The Blues led 10-3 at the interval thanks to a Jerome Kaino try and a conversion and penalty from Ihaia West with the Lions' only points coming via a Elton Jantjies penalty. The Lions turned on the style after half-time and secured victory thanks to a Ruan Combrinck try, which Jantjies converted, and another penalty from the pivot.

Players to watch: Blues enforcer Jerome Kaino has had a quiet year by his standards. The All Black started the campaign as the team's skipper but has relinquished the captaincy after returning to action from a shoulder injury. When on song, he's the best blindside flanker in the business with his ball-carrying and defensive abilities particularly impressive. If he builds up a head of steam, the Lions' defence will have to be at their best to keep him in check.

Much of the Lions' fortunes depends on the performance of their fly-half Elton Jantjies. The Springbok's playmaking abilities have been impressive and if he can get quality ball from his pack, the Lions should dominate. His goal-kicking is also crucial and he should keep the scoreboard ticking if the Blues concede penalties within his range.

Team news: Lions boss Johan Ackermann has made four changes to his starting XV. In the forwards, tighthead prop Julian Redelinghuys and hooker Malcom Marx return to the starting line-up and replace Armand van der Merwe and Pieter Scholtz respectively. In the back-line, Ross Cronjé gets the nod at scrum-half with Faf de Klerk dropping to the bench while Rohan Janse van Rensburg comes in to partner Lionel Mapoe in midfield with Howard Mnisi moving to the bench.

The Blues have made two alterations to their side, after last weekend's win over the Kings, with both changes made in the forwards. In the second-row, Hoani Matenga takes over from the injured Josh Bekhuis while All Blacks prop Charlie Faumuina replaces Ofa Tu’ungafasi in the front-row.

Form: The Lions are fresh off a bye but suffered a humiliating 50-17 home defeat against the Hurricanes in Round 10. Prior to that, they were on a three-match winning streak, against South African opposition, beating the Sharks in Durban, the Stormers in Johannesburg and the Kings in Port Elizabeth.

The Blues' last defeat came in Round Seven when they lost narrowly against the Chiefs in Hamilton. Since then, they have beaten the Sharks and Rebels in Auckland although they had a bye in between those fixtures in Round Nine. They continued with their fine form when they claimed a 34-18 victory over the Kings in Port Elizabeth last weekend.

Prediction: Although the Lions suffered a big loss in their previous match, they seldom play poorly in two successive games at their home ground. Lions to win by nine points.

Previous results:

2015: Lions won 13-10 in Albany
2014: Lions won 39-36 in Johannesburg
2012: Blues won 25-3 in Auckland
2011: Blues won 41-32 in Johannesburg
2010: Blues won 56-14 in Johannesburg
2009: Blues won 36-12 in Auckland
2008: Blues won 55-10 in Johannesburg
2007: Blues won 41-14 in Auckland

The teams:

Lions: 15 Jaco Van Der Walt, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse Van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith 
Replacements: 16 Armand Van Der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Jacques Van Rooyen, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf De Klerk, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Sylvian Mahuza

Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 George Moala, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Hoani Matenga, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Kara Pryor, 20 Joe Edwards, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 Male Sau

Date: Saturday, May 14
Venue: Emirates Airlines Stadium, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 19:15 local (17:15 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper, Pro Legoete
TMO: Shaun Veldsman

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