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Super Rugby Preview: Lions v Blues

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Sportal.co.nz     03 Mar 2011     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Saturday, March 5 2011, Johannesburg, 6.10am (NZT)

HEAD TO HEAD: Lions 3, Blues 10

LAST TIME: May 10, 2010 (Johannesburg) – Lions 14-56 Blues.

WALKING WOUNDED: Both sides have come through largely unscathed from the first two rounds and it is with a view to maintaining freshness that Blues coach Pat Lam has made several changes to the side with Keven Mealamu, Anthony Boric, Daniel Braid, Stephen Brett and Rene Ranger going to the reserves bench for the game. The Lions have included Wikus van Heerden at lock for the first time with George Earl dropping out of the 22 for the game.

FORM:
Lions:
Week 1: Lost, 20-24, v Bulls, Johannesburg
Week 2: Lost, 19-16, v Stormers, Cape Town

Blues:
Week 1: Won 24-22 v Crusaders, Auckland
Week 2: Lost 12-26 v Sharks, Durban

The Blues made an outstanding start to the season with a win over the Crusaders but unloaded a heap of errors in their first appearance in South Africa against the Sharks. Some of that may have been due to the travel factor, and also events back in New Zealand, but this time there is no room for excuses. The Lions, by comparison, have made a fine start without a win. But having to play last year's finalists in the first two games, is a tough call by any standards. The fact the Lions could have won both matches with a little more belief will strengthen their cause.

WHO'S HOT: Lions coach John Mitchell has shown great faith in his first five-eighths Elton Jantjies but lapses in his kicking form have been crucial. But he has control of the backline going for him. Centre Waylon Murray has been in consistently good touch so far while fullback Jaco Taute is a danger for a team using the ball more expansively. Flanker Jerome Kaino gets some more responsibility leading the Blues this week and Sherwin Stowers showed some good speed against the Sharks.

WE THINK: Two desperate teams going at it in the hotbed of one of the great rugby stadiums of the world makes this a key clash in the round. At home, and vastly improved on recent seasons, the Lions will be a good chance to take the match. But the Blues too are desperate and with their superior experience, even with some of it on the bench, that should be enough for them to come home with a win, and quite possibly as a result of the introduction of bench players in the second half.

TEAMS:

Lions: 1. JC Janse van Rensburg, 2. Bandise Maku, 3. Patric Cilliers, 4. Wikus van Heerden, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 6. Derrick Minnie, 7. Joshua Strauss, 8. Warren Whiteley, 9. Jano Vermaak, 10. Elton Jantjies, 11. Michael Killian, 12. Doppies la Grange, 13. Waylon Murray, 14. Lionel Mapoe, 15. Jaco Taute.

Reserves: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. Kevin Buys, 18. Dries van Schalkwyk, 19. Cobus Grobbelaar, 20. Rory Kockott, 21. Burton Francis, 22. James Kamana.

Blues 1. Tony Woodcock, 2. Tom McCartney, 3. John Afoa, 4. Kurtis Haiu, 5. Ali Williams, 6. Jerome Kaino (captain), 7. Luke Braid, 8. Peter Saili, 9. Alby Mathewson, 10. Luke McAlister, 11. Sherwin Stowers, 12. Benson Stanley, 13. Jared Payne, 14. Joe Rokocoko, 15. Isaia Toeava.

Replacements: 16. Keven Mealamu, 17. Charlie Faumuina, 18. Anthony Boric, 19. Daniel Braid, 20. Toby Morland, 21. Stephen Brett, 22. Rene Ranger.
REFEREE: Jonathan Kaplan