Preview: Lions v Waratahs

Date published: May 29 2015

The Waratahs will be brimming with confidence when they take on the Lions in this crucial Super Rugby clash in Johannesburg on Saturday.

Despite being very inconsistent this season, the defending champions will be boosted by their record against their hosts.

From the seven previous matches between these sides, the Waratahs have been victorious on every occasion with the Lions often beaten by 20 points or more.

The closest the men from Johannesburg have come to claiming a win was in 2009 when they suffered a 38-33 defeat in Johannesburg.

This match is important for both sides. The Waratahs are keen to consolidate their position at the top of the Australian Conference while the Lions – who are currently seventh in the table – are chasing a play-off place.

These two sides boast three of the top six tacklers in Super Rugby – the Lions’ Warren Whiteley (204 successful tackles out of 211 attempts) and Warwick Tecklenburg (153/159) as well as the Waratahs’ Michael Hooper (144/165). If one looks at the tournament's attacking statistics, then this should be a very entertaining game.

The Waratahs have made the third most clean breaks (142), second most carries (1596) and beaten the third most defenders (291) in the tournament while the Lions are fifth highest for defenders beaten (272).

The Lions are also leading on defence with a 87.8% tackle success rate. The Waratahs suffered a setback when lock Will Skelton and hooker Tolu Latu were banned for a tip tackle on Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock during the 'Tahs' victory over the seven-time champions last weekend.

It will be interesting to see how the defending champions adapt without the duo who both played prominent roles in that victory.

Lions boss Johan Ackermann believes his side will be tested against a side of Test quality.

"They've been together for quite a while now and they've obviously been coached well and if you look at the number of Australian caps in that side it is almost like the Lions against Australia," he said.

"It is an Australian side with about 80 per cent players (that) have played for Australia and a lot of those players will be in the World Cup.

"So that is the challenge that lies ahead for us, but it is a great one for the players and for the team, against a quality side."

The last time these teams met: The Waratahs were in a rampant mood when they beat the Lions 41-13 with a bonus point in Sydney in Round 14 of last year's competition. Bernard Foley led the way for the 'Tahs with a 21-point haul via a try, two penalties and five conversions and Rob Horne also scored two tries. Their other points came through five-pointers from Kurtley Beale, and Adam Ashley-Cooper. For the Lions, Jaco Kriel scored a try and Marnitz Boshoff kicked a conversion and two penalties.

Players to watch: Lions outside centre Lionel Mapoe has put up his hand for a possible Springbok debut with several impressive performances in 2015. Mapoe has benefitted from the Lions' attacking style of play and is devastating with ball in hand. He's also solid on defence and his battle with Adam Ashley-Cooper should be one of the highlights of this encounter.

For the visitors full-back Israel Folau is their most high profile player and although he hasn't been scoring as many tries as in previous seasons, he has been managing to set up his team-mates. Folau is ranked first in the competition for offloads (32) and sixth in the competition for try assists (four). Folau also leads the competition for tackle busts (59) and has made the most metres with ball in hand (1445m) in 2015, at an incredible average of 111m per game.

Team news: The Lions have made four changes to their team after last weekend's win over the Cheetahs. In the forwards, Schalk van der Merwe will start at loosehead, Armand van der Merwe moves up into the starting side at hooker and Julian Redelinghuys comes in at tighthead. Meanwhile, in the backline, the only change takes place at inside centre as Harold Vorster is promoted to the starting side.

The Tahs have made two changes, with Hugh Roach and Mitchell Chapman replacing the suspended Latu and Skelton. Other than that it's an unchanged team, with Dave Porecki moving onto the bench.

Form: The Lions returned to their winning ways with a 40-17 thrashing of the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last weekend, after they suffered a defeat to the Brumbies in Round 14. The Waratahs are on a high after successive home victories over the Sharks and Crusaders in recent weeks.

Prediction: With both sides emplying expansive game-plans, this should be a very entertaining affair. It will be a close game but the Waratahs will win by five points!

Previous results:

2014: Waratahs won 41-13 in Sydney
2011: Waratahs won 29-12 in Sydney
2010: Waratahs won 73-12 in Sydney
2009: Waratahs won 38-33 in Johannesburg
2008: Waratahs won 26-3 in Sydney

The teams:

Lions: Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Stokkies Hanekom.

Waratahs: Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Stephen Hoiles, 5 Dave Dennis, 4 Mitchell Chapman, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Hugh Roach, 1 Benn Robinson
Replacements: 16 Dave Porecki, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Jaques Potgieter, 20 Dean Mumm, 21 Patrick McCutcheon, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Matt Carraro

Date: Saturday, May 30
Venue: Emirates Airlines Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 19:10 local (03:10 AEST, 05:10 NZST, 17:10 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden, Pro Legote (both South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)