COLES IS PRETTY MO­TI­VATED

Now we have an op­por­tu­nity in front of us and need to take ad­van­tage of play­ing at home, says Marx

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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. –

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