Preview: Chiefs v Lions

Getty Images     03 May 2012     Getty Images

Unless the world gets turned on its head, not much is likely to change this weekend at Pukekohe.

VENUE & TIME: Growers Stadium, Pukekohe, Saturday May 5 @ 1935

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 16; Chiefs 11, Transvaal / Gauteng / Cats / Lions 5.

LAST TIME: April 23, 2011 (Johannesburg) – Lions 30-34 Chiefs.

WALKING WOUNDED: Dave Rennie has few problems at the Chiefs, and all his important players are getting through without any problems at the moment. He has, however, taken the chance to rest a few of his regulars but the side named still has plenty of strength about it. John Mitchell finally got some good news on the injury front as props CJ van der Linde and JC Janse van Rensburg were cleared to tour following lengthy lay-offs, while Franco van der Merwe returns to the starting lineup. Mitchell will be without Butch James for the next month after the bruising centre was found guilty of dangerous play at a ruck and suspended, with his previous record not favouring him when the time off was calculated.

Round 6: beat Waratahs 30-13 (h)
Round 7: beat Force 20-12 (a)
Round 8: beat Cheetahs 39-33 (a)
Round 9: beat Sharks 18-12 (a)
Round 10: beat Hurricanes 33-14 (h)

Round 6: lost to Crusaders 13-23 (h)
Round 7: lost to Cheetahs 5-26 (a)
Round 8: lost to Bulls 18-32 (h)
Round 9: bye
Round 10: lost to Brumbies 20-34 (h)

The Chiefs continue to rock along at the top of the table, winning their eighth straight match last weekend as they saw the Hurricanes off with a degree of comfort. The margin might have blown out in the closing stages, but the work was done in the first hour. Since an opening-round loss, the Chiefs have been very consistent and consistently good. One suspects this is a team that can go deep into the season.

The Lions season has been a photographic negative of the Chiefs year – an opening win and then nothing but losses. A tendency to start slowly has hurt them – they have only led at halftime once this year, and then they lost to the Crusaders – and without the game-breakers many other sides possess, recovering from a deficit is often too hard. Mitchell was bemoaning their worst defensive effort of the year against the Brumbies, and it was ordinary, but scoring points remains the team’s biggest problem.

WHO'S HOT: The Chiefs have been getting good performances from every player they use in 2012, which makes picking a team tough for all the right reasons. One only has to look at the selection poser Rennie faces each week at hooker, where internationals Hika Elliot (New Zealand) and Mahonri Schwalger (Samoa) are vying for the start; both have played well either as run-on starters or off the bench and most teams would be happy to have either. They have different skill sets but both are accurate in their set pieces and hard, physical men around the park. Sonny Bill Williams is thriving in the current set-up, playing the best football of his so-far short rugby career. Knowing so many teams pay particular attention to limiting his effectiveness, the Chiefs use him wisely but when unleashed he has often torn defences open and made play for those around him.

The talking point in the Lions team, at least in South Africa this week, has been the naming of a couple of huge young second-row forwards although they have a combined total of one appearance between them in Super rugby. Grant Hattingh, a lock who will play blindside this week, is 2.01m and something in the order of 115kg and touted as a good athlete in the open as well as a lineout force. Lock Ruan Botha is even taller, at 2.04m, although he is a little less bulky. Picked out as a player with a future, it will be interesting to see how he gets on against the experienced Chiefs pack. Although Jaco Taute has battled to get on the scoresheet with any regularity, he is a good player at this level and nobody takes him lightly. Possessing good speed, good instincts close to the line and a solid all-round game, He is the most dangerous of the visiting backs and one who needs more play than he’s getting at the moment.

WE THINK: Not too many people will be thinking for long before picking the Chiefs to win this one handily. It’s hard to find any reason to expect any other result than a decisive home win, which should come with a bonus point attached. There’s just too much pace, skill and class about the Chiefs and they’ve been finding ways to beat far better teams than the Lions all season.

Chiefs: 1. Toby Smith, 2. Hika Elliot, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Craig Clarke (capt), 5. Michael Fitzgerald, 6. Tanerau Latimer, 7. Sam Cane, 8. Kane Thomson, 9. Brendon Leonard, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 13. Richard Kahui, 14. Lelia Masaga, 15. Andrew Horrell.

Replacements: 16. Mahonri Schwalger, 17. Sona Taumalolo, 18. Alex Bradley, 19. Scott Waldrom, 20. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21 Jackson Willison, 22. Martino Nemani.

Lions: 1. Caylib Oosthuizen or JC Janse van Rensburg, 2. Callie Visagie, 3. Pat Cilliers, 4. Franco van der Merwe, 5. Ruan Botha, 6. Derick Minnie, 7. Grant Hattingh, 8. Joshua Strauss (capt), 9. Ross Cronje, 10. Elton Jantjies, 11. Lionel Mapoe, 12. Alwyn Hollenbach, 13. Jaco Taute, 14. Deon van Rensburg, 15. Andries Coetzee.

Replacements: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. CJ van der Linde, 18. Cobus Grobbelaar, 19. Jaco Kriel, 20. Tian Meyer, 21. James Kamana, 22. Michael Killian.

REFEREE: Ian Smith (Australia)