Preview: Rebels v Lions

Date published: March 19 2015

With two impressive away wins to show for their efforts thus far, the Rebels will be eager to bring that same joy to their Melbourne supporters when they host the Lions at AAMI Park on Friday.

Having started the Super Rugby season with a victory over the seven-time champion Crusaders in Christchurch, the Rebels backed-up that performance with solid outings against the Waratahs and Brumbies.

Although the ‘Tahs and Brumbies won their respective matches in Melbourne, it was clear that the Rebels would continue to play with cohesion and that they are unlikely to be the whipping boys they have been in the past.

Their record at home should, however, be cause for some concern as they have failed grab a win in their last six outings.

A seventh loss at home would represent a new low while it would also break some of the momentum they gained from their fifth round victory over the Western Force. The Rebels have never won a match against the Lions.

While the pressure of returning to winning ways at home should be felt in Force’s locker room, the Lions are likely to enter this contest in a far more relaxed state of mind even though they were taken to task by the Crusaders last week.

The Johannesburg-based side has looked solid in defence and could pose a real threat if they follow the example of the Rebels by opting to play a more structured game at times.

Rebels coach Tony McGahan felt that his men would come out on top if they didn’t allow complacency to creep into their game.

"The easy thing for us is that we don’t have the ability to ease off in any game," said McGahan.

"Every game is a danger game for us. “Other sides who are travelling really well and consistently over a long period of time they have those opportunities to look out and look down for bogey sides. “It’s easy for us, every side is a bogey side for us.”

Lions coach Johann Ackermann, who made no less than 12 changes to his squad, hinted that this contest would be used to test a few new combinations.

"We said we would give everyone a run in the tour – at some stage I’ve also got to give Franco Mostert a rest. Ross (Cronje) gets his rest now and obviously we’re testing that combination of Bossie and Elton at 10/12 with the left and right footed combination."

The last time these team met: Having only ever faced each other in Johannesburg the Rebels on each occasion struggled to get to grips with the effects playing at altitude has on the body. To that effect the Rebels were outclassed by a team that had a point to prove when they met in July 2014.

Players to watch: Rebels fans will be eager to see how 19-year-old Johan Placid does in his Super Rugby debut. He has been called-up after Jack Debreczeni sustained an injury, but will start at full-back leaving a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of Mike Harris who will slot in at 10. The Lions will again look to their captain and the tournament’s leading tackler to lead from the front. Having a left and right footed kicker in Marnitz Boshoff and Elton Jantjies at first receiver could count in their favour.

Team news: While the Lions made wholesale changes to their team the Rebels only had the one change following Debreczeni’s injury setback.

Form: The Rebels have looked solid in all their outings and will look to build on the momentum gained from their victory against the Force last week. The Lions have not quite lived up to expectations and although they were delighted with their win over the Blues in Auckland, any thoughts of complacency were squashed when they were outmuscled by the Crusaders in their last outing.

Predictions: It is not every day that the Lions enter a match with a psychological advantage over their opponents, but then the Rebels have are unlikely to have been as desperate to win in front of their home fans. This should be a closely contested match and although it will be against the odds, the Lions might just sneak it. Lions by four points.

Previous results:
2014: Lions won 34-17 in Johannesburg  
2012: Lions won 37-32 in Johannesburg

The teams:

Rebels: 15 Jonah Placid, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Mike Harris, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham (captain), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements:16 Tom Sexton, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Steve Cummins, 20 Colby Fainga’a, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Sefanaia Naivalu

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

Date:Friday, March 20
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off:  19:40 local ( 08.40 GMT;  10.40 SAST; 21:40 NZT))
Referee:Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees:Rohan Hoffman (Australian), Will Houston(Australia)