Preview: Lions v Hurricanes

Date published: April 29 2016

The game of the Super Rugby weekend takes place in Johannesburg on Saturday when the Lions host the Hurricanes in a mouth-watering clash.

Sitting on 27 and 26 points respectively after eight games, these two have shown enough to suggest they could end the season as champions. Many might scoff at such talk regarding the Lions but they would be unwise to write off the Currie Cup winners who look in excellent form.

Countless words of praise have been lavished on Johan Ackermann's side, which is being steered superbly by Elton Jantjies at fly-half. He looks every bit the finished article at 25 years of age and continues to push his case for the Springbok starting shirt against the Irish.

Many more are impressing week on week such as Faf de Klerk, Ruan Combrinck and Franco Mostert – in fact all of their squad looks confident in the team's style which is a credit to Ackermann and his staff. The big question now is can they continue this during the business end.

Their opponents arrive in a decent patch, minus last week's narrow loss to the Chiefs. After a rough start to the season they again look like title challengers and will be buoyed by the fact the last time they lost a match to a South African team was to the Stormers back in 2014.

Chris Boyd's men have also won eight of their nine meetings with the Lions – a defeat in 2007 being the only blemish in this run – with a 22-8 victory last year kicking off 2015's season. They'll know, however, this Lions team is much improved and they have their work cut out.

Everyone needs to perform for the 'Canes at what is becoming a fortress at Ellis Park. Julian Savea will face off with Combrinck while his younger brother, Ardie, takes on Jaco Kriel in two of many personal battles that will keep fans on the edge of their seat, with plenty of points expected in a high tempo fixture. Both teams will want to play which is great for the viewer and makes this a fascinating prospect.

The last time these teams met: The Hurricanes won last season in Johannesburg in a 22-8 result that kicked off the new campaign on a high note. Despite Ruan Combrinck scoring the game's first try for the Lions, efforts from TJ Perenara and Matt Proctor helped seal the victory.

Players to watch: Back in the side after being benched last week, Jaco Kriel is sure to add some firepower to the Lions back row. Alongside the in-form Warren Whiteley, Franco Mostert and Armand van der Merwe this quartet will hope to stamp their say on the forward battle. Ruan Combrinck will also be a key player on Saturday as he looks to continue his excellent start to the season on the wing against Julian Savea.

Hurricanes players to watch out for are Vaea Fifita, TJ Perenara and of course Beauden Barrett while flanker Ardie Savea going up against the aforementioned Lions back row will be a real crowd pleaser. Dane Coles will also look to continue his excellent form in Johannesburg.

Team news: The Lions have made three changes to their starting line-up as they have been forced to name a second new-look prop duo in as many weeks. Prop Corne Fourie rotates with Dylan Smith while Pieter Scholtz gets his first start of the season. Blindside flank Cyle Brink drops to the bench and is replaced by Jaco Kriel, who pairs up with captain Warren Whiteley and Warwick Tecklenburg to form the loose trio.

Lock Vaea Fifita's elevation to the starting team represents the only change to the 'Canes side. Jamison Gibson-Park comes into the 23 for Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, who has remained in New Zealand, while James Marshall edges Otere Black as the cover for fly-half and full-back.

Form: The Lions are enjoying a three-game winning run in Super Rugby after beating the Sharks, Stormers and Kings back-to-back, which has put them in a strong position in Africa 2. They are one point off the Stormers in the South African Conference with six wins from eight.

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes missed the chance to go top of the overall standings last week after losing 28-27 at home to the Chiefs and are therefore sitting in third place in New Zealand's conference. Before that loss they had won their last five matches and looking good form.

Prediction: This one is sure to go down to the wire on Saturday and with home advantage, we expect the Lions to sneak the result by three.

Previous results:

2015: Hurricanes won 22-8 in Johannesburg
2012: Hurricanes won 30-28 in Johannesburg
2011: Hurricanes won 38-27 in Wellington
2010: Hurricanes won 33-18 in Wellington
2009: Hurricanes won 38-32 in Johannesburg
2008: Hurricanes won 38-12 in Wellington
2007: Lions won 30-7 in Johannesburg
2006: Hurricanes won 29-16 in Wellington

The teams:

Lions: 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 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 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Dylan Smith
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 JW Bell, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg

Hurricanes: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Vince Aso, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Reg Goodes
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Blade Thomson, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 James Marshall, 23 Willis Halaholo

Date: Saturday, April 30
Venue: Emirates Airlines Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17:05 local (15:05 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper, Ben Crouse
TMO: Johan Greef