Preview: Lions v Cheetahs

Date published: April 24 2015

The Lions will look to continue their fine recent form when they host the Cheetahs in Johannesburg on Saturday.

The home side – who are fresh off a bye in Round 10 – have won their last four matches and are currently in eighth position on the overall table. A victory in this clash will make them genuine play-off contenders.

They face a Cheetahs side who are smarting after they suffered an agonising 18-17 defeat to the Reds in Bloemfontein last weekend. South African derbies are usually intense affairs and this one should be no different.

Despite their fine form, the Lions are side that have scored the least tries (11) in this season's tournament while the Cheetahs have made the fewest carries (665), gained the least metres (2704) and beaten the least defenders (102) in the competition.

Lions captain Warren Whiteley is not getting carried away by his side's recent results.

“We haven’t even thought of it [the winning streak]," he said.

"We just want to keep performing and we know very well there are areas to improve.”

The Cheetahs lost Springboks Heinrich Brussow (broken arm) and Coenie Oosthuizen (back) to injury in that defeat to the Reds.

Despite those blows, head coach Naka Drotsk is staying positive.

“The injuries are a huge set-back," he said.

"There is nothing you can do about it and it wouldn’t help to sit and brood about it.

"At the same time it creates opportunities for younger players to prove themselves worthy.

“We still believe that we can beat the Lions and we’re not going to lie down. The Lions play really good rugby and have become a well-established group over the last couple of years.”

The last time these teams met: The Lions delivered a dominant display at home and scored eight tries in a 60-25 win during Round 19 of last year's tournament. Lionel Mapoe led the charge with a hat-trick of tries and Elton Jantjies contributed 20 points via seven conversions and two penalties.

Players to watch: Lions hooker Armand van der Merwe gets a rare start after several appearances of the bench. This pint-sized dynamo has made a huge impact off the replacements bench this season and will look to cement his place in the run-on side with his explosive ball-carrying ability.

The Cheetahs have shifted Joe Pietersen to full-back which means Willie du Plessis starts at fly-half. He will be expected to give direction to the visitors' back-line who haven't really fired on all cylinders this season. Du Plessis is a fine playmaker who brings the best out of those around him and is equally adept at playing an attacking game and conservatively depending on the game situation.

Team news: The Lions have made three changes to their starting line-up. In the pack, Van der Merwe comes in at hooker while Ruan Dreyer packs down at tighthead prop. The backline sees just one change with Courtnall Skosan returning on the left wing after recovering from injury.

The Cheetahs have sprung a surprise by naming Pietersen at full-back. Pietersen started most of the Bloemfontein-based side's games at fly-half but Du Plessis will wear the number 10 jersey at Ellis Park. Tienie Burger comes in on the openside flank for Brüssow.

Form: The Lions have won five of their nine matches played this season and are currently on a four-match winning streak. They finished their overseas tour with wins over the Rebels and Reds before claiming derby victories over the Bulls and Sharks. The Cheetahs have been inconsistent throughout their campaign and have won three of their matches played in 2015. Last weekend's loss to the Reds was preceded by a memorable win over the Western Force in Perth but prior to that they suffered defeats to the Crusaders, Chiefs and Brumbies on their visit to Australasia.

Prediction: Don't be surprised if this is a high-scoring affair. It's difficult to go against the Lions at home. Lions to win by eight points!

Previous results:

2014: Lions won 60-25 in Johannesburg
2014: Lions won 21-20 in Bloemfontein
2012: Cheetahs won 26-5 in Welkom
2012: Lions won 27-25 in Johannesburg
2011: Cheetahs won 53-19 in Johannesburg
2011: Lions won 25-20 in Bloemfontein.

The teams:

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Robert Kruger, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Howard Mnisi.

Cheetahs: Cheetahs: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Willie du Plessis, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Boom Prinsloo, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveldt, 1 Danie Minnie.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 19 Steven Sykes, 20 Carel Greeff, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Michael van der Spuy, 23 Clayton Blommetjies.

Date: Saturday, April 25
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17:05 (15:05 GMT, 01:05 AEST, 03:05 NZST)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen, Ben Crouse
TMO: Johan Greeff