It is unsurprising a tougher schedule has yielded a more difficult season for the Lions and they will look to find their form against the Brumbies.
Swys de Bruin’s men have gone from two-time Super Rugby finalists to losing six of their 12 matches in 2018. While they still reside at the top of the South African Conference, the Johannesburg outfit have simply not been the dominant force they were.
Part of that is down to having to face the New Zealand teams, something they farcically avoided in 2017, but losing the astute Johan Ackermann has also been a blow. They have only won two of their previous seven matches and, although the South Africans were not thrashed by the Hurricanes and Highlanders over the previous couple of weeks, the New Zealand franchises were comfortable in both encounters.
They have plenty of talented individuals, with Elton Jantjies, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Andries Coetzee forming an impressive spine in the backline. Franco Mostert and Kwagga Smith are also consistent performers among the forwards, but the absence of Malcolm Marx is a concern for De Bruin.
Fortunately for the Lions’ boss, Marx should only miss two matches and their upcoming clash against the Australians comes at the right time for the hosts. The Brumbies have endured an awful season, winning just three matches, and their latest clash saw them suffer yet another disappointing reversal after going down to the Rebels in Canberra.
Much like their opponents, the visitors do not lack ability in certain positions and are boosted by the return of David Pocock and Isi Naisarani, but some players simply haven’t perform this season. Henry Speight and Tevita Kuridrani, two individuals who they can usually rely upon to produce something special, have failed to find their best.
The playmaking axis of Christian Lealiifano and Kyle Godwin is talented but, as a collective, the team have not gelled and it is difficult to predict those issues being rectified in Johannesburg this weekend.
The last time the teams met: It was a pretty awful game in Canberra but the Lions showed excellent courage to come away with a 13-6 triumph. On the side’s third game of their Australian tour, Johan Ackermann’s men went into the break 3-0 down due to a Wharenui Hawera penalty but took the lead following Kwagga Smith’s superb individual try. Elton Jantjies and Hawera traded three-pointers midway through the second half, but Andries Coetzee’s late effort off the tee completed the victory.
Players to watch:
For Lions: Having starred early on this season for the Lions, it will be interesting to see how Aphiwe Dyantyi fares alongside Rohan Janse van Rensburg in the centres. Powerful and quick, the speedster, who has solely played on the wing in Super Rugby, should suit the 13 position, but taking on Tevita Kuridrani will certainly test his capabilities. A pectoral injury has halted Dyantyi’s progress but, if the hosts can get quick ball, expect him to shine on Saturday.
For Brumbies: Once the rising star of Australian rugby, Kyle Godwin has struggled for form this season but gets his opportunity against the Lions. Despite the 25-year-old’s reasonably slight frame, the former Western Force man is a solid defender and he will have to be at his best to stop the powerful Janse van Rensburg. With the ball, Godwin is an intelligent player and he and Christian Lealiifano will be under pressure to create chances in an attack which has been misfiring.
Team news: Springbok fly-half Elton Jantjies will earn his 100th cap in Super Rugby for the Lions when they host the Brumbies in Johannesburg on Saturday.
In the most interesting change, Aphiwe Dyantyi switches from the wing to outside centre, where he will line up alongside Rohan Janse van Rensburg. Hacjivah Dayimani returns to the starting line-up at the back of the scrum.
Elsewhere, Madosh Tambwe and Sylvian Mahuza will take their positions on the wings while Ross Cronjé, Corné Fourie, Len Massyn and Shaun Reynolds are all new faces on the bench.
For the Brumbies, centre Tevita Kuridrani will win his 100th Super Rugby cap for his side when they run out to face the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Meanwhile, team-mate Ben Alexander will rack up his 150th from the replacements bench.
Kuridrani will bring up the century from a starting position at inside centre with Alexander set to reach his milestone should he, as expected, make an appearance from amongst the finishers on the weekend.
Head coach Dan McKellar has named a new-look back-row with an intriguing blend of guile and power as Rob Valetini lines up at flanker alongside returning duo David Pocock and Isi Naisarani, both sufficiently recovered from recent injury to be selected in the starting XV.
The front five remains the same as that which played against the Rebels at GIO Stadium with Scott Sio, Folau Fainga’a and Allan Alaalatoa appearing to be a settled front-row, the trio augmented by the locking pair of Sam Carter and Rory Arnold who will pack down behind.
There’s changes in the backs however with Christian Lealiifano reverting to fly-half, forming an exciting looking partnership with young scrum-half Joe Powell, while Kuridrani will be partnered by Kyle Godwin at inside centre.
Andrew Muirhead, Henry Speight and full-back Tom Banks will have licence to run in the back three and will be keen to make use of any openings that may come their way from what should be a solid platform provided by the forwards.
Form: For the first 10 rounds, the Lions looked as though they would once again stroll into the play-offs but three successive defeats have set them back. The Johannesburg-based team have produced impressive performances, defeating the Bulls, Stormers and Waratahs comfortably, but that has been interspersed by some shoddy displays. Even in victory the South Africans were poor against the Sunwolves, while they have been shocked by the Blues, Jaguares and Reds.
The Brumbies have similarly struggled over the last few rounds, losing four in a row, which should end their play-off chances. While defeats to the Highlanders and Crusaders were understandable, they will be disappointed by their home results against the Jaguares and Rebels. In all, Dan McKellar’s men have only secured three victories – over the Sunwolves, Sharks and Reds – and have succumbed in their other seven encounters.
Prediction: Swys de Bruin’s men may be on a poor run but the Brumbies are in even worse form and should struggle in Johannesburg. Lions by 12.
2017: Lions won 13-6 in Canberra
2015: Brumbies won 30-20 in Johannesburg
2012: Brumbies won 34-20 in Johannesburg
2011: Lions won 29-20 in Canberra
2010: Brumbies won 24-13 in Canberra
2009: Lions won 25-17 in Johannesburg
2008: Brumbies won 28-21 in Canberra
2007: Brumbies won 14-9 in Johannesburg
1997: Lions won 44-36 in Johannesburg
1996: Brumbies won 13-9 in Canberra
Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Madosh Tambwe, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Hacjivah Dayimani, 7 Franco Mostert (c), 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Lourens Erasmus, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Dylan Smith
Replacements: 16 Corne Fourie, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Len Massyn, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Shaun Reynolds, 23 Ruan Combrinck
Brumbies: 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Andrew Muirhead, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 David Pocock, 6 Rob Valetini, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Folau Fainga’a, 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Nick Mayhew, 18 Ben Alexander, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Tom Cusack, 22 Matt Lucas, 23 Andrew Smith
Date: Saturday, May 19
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 17:15 (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Stephen Geldenhuys (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)