COLES IS PRETTY MOTIVATED
Now we have an opportunity in front of us and need to take advantage of playing at home, says Marx
This time though the Lions are at home and it’s not the final, but the semi-final.
Marx, who has been one of his team’s biggest stars this season and especially in last weekend’s narrow win against the Sharks, said yesterday that the fact the Lions qualified for the playoffs for the second year in succession was something they now had to make count... especially as they will play at home for the rest of the season.
“It’s not every day that you get into the Super Rugby playoffs for a second year in a row and this time as the top-placed team,” said Marx, yesterday. “We certainly want to make that count for us.
“We did the hard work last year as well and would have loved to win the title then, but it was always going to be difficult away from home and playing against a team that is more familiar with the weather conditions we faced on the day. But now we have an opportunity in front of us and need to take advantage of playing at home.”
The Lions never really stood a chance in the wet and cold of Wellington last year, but at home on the dry Highveld in the early afternoon they’ll fancy their chances of not only getting past last year’s champions but going all the way.
Marx though said the fact they have experience of playing knockout rugby last year and knowing what the Hurricanes will bring to the contest will make no difference on Saturday. More so because it will be the first time this season that the Lions face a New Zealand team.
“Of course it is an advantage playing at home, and knowing we got through the quarters and semis last year; we’re a more experienced side now, but we can’t rely on that. Just look how hard the Sharks pushed us last weekend... and this week it’s going to be even tougher,” he said.
“I suppose at the end of the day it’s going to come down to which side wants it more.”
Marx didn’t feature in last year’s 50-17 drubbing due to a neck injury, but he said it wasn’t pretty viewing from the stands. “The Hurricanes are a great side with quality individuals and I remember that on the day they were in our faces, they applied a lot of pressure. The Sharks, too, last weekend, played a pressure game and were tactically very good, but we’ll be better off this week,” Marx said.
“We weren’t happy with our showing last Saturday, but you can’t always perform at that high level. The good thing is we pulled off the win and can now look forward to the next challenge.”
Marx, who has been exceptional as a ball winner on the ground – he’s in fact the third best man in Super Rugby to win turn-over ball this season – is likely to come up against fit-again Canes skipper Dane Coles – a rehearsal
AS if facing the defending champions and the only New Zealand team they didn’t manage to beat last year wasn’t hard enough, the Lions will now also have to contend with returning Hurricanes skipper Dane Coles this weekend.
And the hooker is sure to have plenty of bottled-up energy, fizzing to be released after spending several weeks on the sidelines which also resulted in him missing the once-in-alifetime opportunity of facing the British and Irish Lions in a Test series.
The energetic No 2, widely regarded as the best in the business, returned to action for the Canes in their quarter-final win against the Brumbies in Canberra last weekend, but that was from off the bench; this week, in the semi-final in Johannesburg he’s set to start – for the first time since mid-March. He had been out with concussion problems and also a calf injury. A fit Coles, who led his team to the Super Rugby title in Wellington for the first time following their 20-3 win against the Lions last year, will come up against hometown hero Malcolm Marx, and what a duel that promises to be.
Coles’ addition to the starting team will give the Lions just a little more to think about as they look to beat the visitors for the first time since 2007 and exact some revenge on them for doing the double on them last year; the Canes won 50-17 in the regular season and then also triumphed comfortably in the wet and cold in the final.
But it’s not only Coles who’s likely to make a return for the Hurricanes this week; joint top try-scorer Vince Aso is also expected to be back in the matchday squad after being sidelined for the last three weeks due to a minor groin tear. Where he slots in though will be interesting because Ngani Laumape and Jordie Barrett have performed well at centre of late, while Julian Savea and Wes Goosen have been stars on the wings and then there’s fit-again Nehe Milner-Skudder to consider as well. Add TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett as the half-backs and you realise coach Chris Boyd has got himself a very nice selection dilemma. All Black wing Cory Jane didn’t even make the starting team against the Brumbies.
Assistant Canes coach and former Sharks boss John Plumtree told the www.stuff.co.nz website that Coles would probably start in his 100th appearance.
“There’s a good chance you’ll see him start,” said Plumtree. “He’s good to go, he’s got that old spark back and is pretty motivated obviously.”
If Aso, who has scored 14 tries in Super Rugby – the same as his centre teammate Laumape – is fit and moves into the centres then Jordie will move to fullback, according to Plumtree.
“His long-kicking game in Johannesburg is going to be useful but also his ability to diffuse that high-kicking game that we’d expect from Elton Jantjies and Ross Cronje. So, for this game we’d be more excited about Jordie playing fullback,” said Plumtree.
Boyd said his team were looking forward to playing at Ellis Park. “To play the Lions at a packed Ellis Park, I think we’d be pretty stimulated by that.”
Boyd, like his opposite number, Johan Ackermann of the Lions, will name his team tomorrow. Ackermann is expected to stick with the same starting XV that faced the Sharks last weekend, which will mean another appearance from off the bench for dynamic centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg. –