The Lions must be at their best to beat an All Blacks-laden Hurricanes side that will be keen to make a winning start to their South African tour in Johannesburg on Friday.
The home side enter this match on the back of a prosperous domestic season during which they reached the final of the Currie Cup and are eager to replicate that style of play that brought them great success against their traditional opponents.
At home the Lions will fancy their chances against most sides, but whether they will be able to play with the same flair against a well organised Wellington outfit remains to be seen.
The Hurricanes are one of the most dangerous sides when it comes to scoring tries from turnover possession or half-chances and although they have had a change in management – Chris Boyd took over as coach from Mark Hammett at the start of the season – there is enough experience in the squad to see them through.
The men from windy Wellington have won their last five matches against the Lions but they also lost five of their last seven matches against South African opposition.
The Lions will enter this match with the knowledge that they have won their last two opening fixtures and that they ended 2014 with three straight victories – a feat they hadn’t managed since winning four in a row in the early part of the 2007 season.
However, the Lions have lost seven of their last eight home games against New Zealand opposition.
Lions skipper Warren Whiteley was quietly confident about his team's chances but said they would not be underestimating the visitors.
“We've been together long enough now, we've all been through a Super Rugby campaign," he said.
Our biggest challenge will be mentally this year and to just keep our feet on the ground. We know the threat the Hurricanes pose, they are a fantastic side with dangerous players all over the park.”
The last time these team met: With the Lions missing out the Super Rugby season in 2013 it would be fair to say that history will count for nothing when they meet on Saturday. Interesting to note though is that matches between the sides have been high scoring affairs and this could again be the case.
Players to watch: Julian Savea, Smith, Beauden Barrett, Ben Franks, Victor Vito (on the bench) – take your pick, the Hurricanes have enough resources to send fear into the eyes of most sides. In contrast the Lions have a tight-knit unit spearheaded by Whiteley while a lot is being made of 20-year-old hooker Malcolm Marx’s form.
Team news: The Hurricanes will have to make do without Jeremy Thrush who has been sidelined through injury for six weeks. Most of their top players did not feature in their pre-season matches so it will be interesting to see what they dish up under Boyd’s leadership. The Lions have lost one or two players to other teams, but the bulk of the men who restored glory to the team last year have stayed on in Johannesburg. Fly-half Elton Jantjies – who starts on the bench – is also back in the fold having missed out on the domestic season due to commitments in Japan.
Form: Unbeaten in their last three Super Rugby outings the Lions head into the opener with enough confidence and self belief. In contrast the Hurricanes struggled to find continuity towards the end of last year’s tournament as they failed to string to together back-to-back wins. They still finished in seventh place overall while their Johannesburg hosts placed 12th.
Prediction: Based on previous results this match should again provide sufficient entertainment for rugby-starved fans and it would not come as a surprise if more than 50 points is scored between the two sides in their season opener. Experience should see the 'Canes home by six points, but don’t rule out an upset.
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 28-12 in Wellington
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Schalk van der Merwe
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Stokkies Hanekom
Hurricanes: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Rey Le-Lo, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dan Coles, 1 Ben Franks
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Reggie Goodes, 18 Chris Eves, 19 Callum Gibbins, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 James Marshall, 23 Matt Proctor.
Date: Friday, February 13
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 19:10 local (17:10 GMT)
Referee: Rohan Hoffman
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees, Pro Legoete