Preview: Lions v Brumbies

Date published: May 15 2015

The Lions could finish the weekend at the top of the South African Conference if they manage to beat the Brumbies in Johannesburg on Saturday.

With the Stormers on a bye, Johan Ackermann's charges could move above their local rivals on the table with a triump over their Australian visitors if the Bulls lose to the Blues in Auckland.

The Lions are on a high after a superb second-half fightback secured them a 28-23 victory over the Highlanders last weekend.

That win has elevated them to seventh spot in the standings. The home side have stayed true to their attacking roots throughout their campaign and are reaping the benefits.

They are fifth highest for defenders beaten (220) in the competition and their defensive effort is another area which has brought them plenty of success as they are second from top in that department for the season with a 88.3% success rate.

Ackermann believes his side's defence will play a key role against the Brumbies.

“We have to be patient on defence and must be up for it defensively, as the Australian sides like to keep the ball through the phases," he said.

"Both the Australian and New Zealand sides are physical, but where the teams from New Zealand like to spread it around, the Aussies tend to hold onto the ball a lot more.

"Our own ball retention is also going to be key and we have to eliminate soft moments, like we had in the first half against the Highlanders.”

Despite losing four of their last five matches, the Brumbies are still at the top of the Australian Conference but the Waratahs are just a point behind them with a game in hand so Stephen Larkham's side can ill afford another defeat.

The Canberra-based side squandered a 16-3 lead before losing 25-24 to the Stormers last weekend. In that clash they should why they are the side with best line-out success rate (90.9%) by poaching several of the Stormers' balls and they will look to repeat on that performance against the Lions who with a 79.4% success rate are second from bottom at the set-piece.

Returning Wallaby utility back Matt Toomua expects a tough assignment this weekend.

“The Lions are an exciting team to watch," he said.

"They love playing from their own end, they love quick line-outs and off loads, which is unorthodox for a South African side which would usually be so dominant at set piece and go from there.”

The last time these teams met: The Lions and Brumbies didn't play against each other last year and because the Johannesburg-based team were replaced by the Southern Kings in 2013, the last match between these sides occurred way back in 2012. That showdown was played in Johannesburg with the Brumbies securing a 34-20 victory. Henry Speight scored a brace of tries and Andrew Smith, Joe Tomane, Ben Alexander and Ruaidhri Murphy also dotted down for the visitors. For the Lions, Jaco Taute and Caylib Oosthuizen crossed the whitewash.

Players to watch: Lions flanker Jaco Kriel was one of the star performers in the victory over the Highlanders last weekend. Kriel possesses the pace of a back and is superb at the breakdowns which should make his battle for the loose ball with Brumbies tearaway David Pocock one of the highlights of this match.

For the visitors captain Stephen Moore has impressed throughout their campaign and he's decision-making in the leadership role will be crucial if they want to return home with at least one victory on their South African trip.

Team news: The Lions have made five changes to their team. In the pack, Martin Muller starts at lock and Robert Kruger comes into the run-on side on the blindside flank. The backline sees three changes with Faf de Klerk starting at scrum-half, Elton Jantjies returning at flyhalf berth and Lionel Mapoe, after recovering from injury, starting on the right wing. For the Brumbies, prop Allan Alaalatoa makes his first start while Matt Toomua returns from injury at inside-centre. The duo’s inclusion means JP Smith and Robbie Coleman drop down to the replacements bench.

Form: The Lions beat the Sharks and Cheetahs before suffering a narrow defeat to the Bulls two weeks ago. They bounced back in style with that win over the Highlanders last week. The Brumbies' only win in the last month was against the Highlanders in Canberra in Round 11. That result is sandwiched in between defeats to the Blues and Rebels early in April and against the Waratahs and Stormers in recent weeks.

Prediction: The hosts have impressed in their backyard throughout the tournament and although the Brumbies will run them close, the Lions will win by three points!

Previous results:

2012: Brumbies won 34-20 in Johannesburg
2011: Lions Won 29-20 in Johannesburg
2010: Brumbies won 24-13 in Canberra
2009: Lions won 25-17 in Johannesburg

The teams:

Lions: 5 Andries Coetzee, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Ruan Combrinck, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Robert Kruger, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Howard Mnisi.

Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Allan Alaalatoa.
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 JP Smith, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jarrad Butler, 20 Jordan Smiler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 James Dargaville, 23 Robbie Coleman.

Date: Saturday, May 16
Venue: Emirates Airlines Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT, 01:05 AEST, 03:05 NZST)
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Stephan Geldenhuys
TMO: Johan Greeff