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Preview: Lions v Crusaders

04th April 2014 11:27

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Johnny McNicholl of the Crusaders dives over to score a try

Crusaders: Under pressure

While fortune often favours the brave, it will take more than bravery for the Lions to get the better of the Crusaders in Johannesburg on Saturday.

The team coached by Johan Ackermann have had the rub of the green in their last two matches which they won thanks to a few controversial decisions going their way.

As unfair as those 'Stuart Berry victories' are considered to be, it is also important to note that - prior to the year they spent in relegation - the Lions were often on the receiving end of poor refereeing decisions as match officials often gave the benefit of the doubt to teams who were considered favourites prior to kick-off.

Human blunders aside, one of the saving graces for the team from Johannesburg thus far has been the low number of injuries the side has been subjected to.

In previous years the Lions would start off with a relatively strong squad, only to be reduced to a team of second stringers by the third round. One year they lost no less than six locks before the fourth round.

To date the only major injury setbacks the side had suffered were the loss of specialist fetcher Derick Minnie (cheekbone fracture) while their only Springbok, Franco van der Merwe, recently joined him on the sidelines with an ankle injury. Van der Merwe's place in the team will be taken by Martin Muller in one of three changes that were made after their bye week.

At the back Andries Coetzee returns from injury lay-off to replace Coenie van Wyk while Lionel Mapoe has also been handed a starting berth after making his comeback from the bench.

Ackermann's men this week face a Crusaders squad that reeks of desperation and they will be eager to prove that their victories against the Reds and Blues were in fact warranted.

If that is the case, they should push the All Black loaded squad to finish line. While getting off to slow starts and peaking at the right time has become a trademark of Crusaders rugby, their form thus far has left very little for the imagination.

Not having Kieran Read at their disposal may be seen as a devastating setback, although there is no doubt that the Whitelock family will do their best to compensate for the absence of a man considered to be the world's best in his position.

The battle at scrum-time should be an interesting one as both sides have excelled in that facet of play.

Prediction: The Crusaders should win by more than 10

The teams:

Lions:15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 0Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Willie Britz, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Schalk van der Merwe
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 JW Jonker

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Nemani Nadolo, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty (c), 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Tom Taylor

Date: Saturday, April 5
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17:05 local (13.05 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)

By Michael Mentz

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