Preview: Lions v Blues

Date published: March 14 2014

Proving their first two wins were not a flash in the pan will be the top priority for the Lions when they host the Blues at Ellis Park.

Proving that their first two wins were not a flash in the pan will be the top priority for the Lions when they host the Blues at Ellis Park on Saturday.

Having faced local opposition in their first four Super Rugby outings, the pride of Johannesburg will finally take on an international opponent after missing out on the action during the 2013 season.

They will be up against a Blues outfit that will be desperate to return to Auckland with some points to show at the conclusion of their two-week tour, while the physical demands that the New Zealand sides present should give the Lions's coaching staff a better idea of just how well conditioned the group of fairly inexperienced players are.

Having struggled with their set-pieces in recent times, the Blues are likely to rely on their enterprising backline players to pierce holes through what has been an impressive Lions defence.

To add to the potency they have at the back, former league player Benji Marshall will make his first of the season and his promotion from the woodwork means that Charles Piutau finds himself on the wing.

The Lions have also tweaked their backline with Marnitz Boshoff shifting from full-back to fly-half where he replaces Springbok Elton Jantjies.

Boshoff's accuracy with the boot was the key factor in his team's surprisingly solid start to the season, but against the Blues his one-on-one defence is likely to be under the spotlight.

This contest should provide great viewing as both sides are known to play an expansive brand of rugby, although the Blues would have noted in their loss to the Bulls last week that high-paced play at altitude may not be the best strategy.

It would therefore not be a surprise if a more pragmatic approach is deployed by the men in blue.

Should the Blues control the tempo of the game early-on, and rectify certain inefficiencies at set-phase, there is no reason why the team with a World Cup winner in their midst in Piri Weepu should not get the better of a side that relies so heavily on the energy their youngsters bring to the party.

Sir John Kirwan's charges will be more acclimatized to local conditions and would have targeted this match as one they simply cannot afford to lose, but if they are to avoid disappointment they will have to find a way of neutralising flanker Jaco Kriel.

Kriel's work on the ground and general ball handling skills has been a revelation for the Lions thus far.

He is a player who relishes the physical stuff while his carries almost always gets his team over the advantage line and on the front foot.

And with three more home games to follow this one, the Kriel and his Lions team mates will look to ensure that their Ellis Park does not become the five-point pitstop it has been for Australasian sides in years gone by.

Prediction: The Lions will be up against a side that plays with many of the same philosophies they have adopted. The Blues, though, should be better in execution. Blues by a comfortable 12.

Lions: 15 Coenie van Wyk, 14 JW Jonker, 13 Deon van Rensburg, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Willie Britz, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Ruan Combrinck.

Blues: 15 Benji Marshall, 14 Frank Halai, 13 George Moala, 12 Pita Ahki, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu , 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Brendon O'Connor, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Sam Prattley, 18, Angus Ta'avao, 19 Liaki Moli, 20 Jordan Manihera, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Jackson Willison.

Date: Saturday, March 15
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 15.00 local (13.00 GMT)
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)