De­fence key for Li­ons

Pretoria News - - SPORT - JAC­QUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN jac­ques.van­der­west­[email protected]

THE Li­ons have had the edge in re­cent times and won three of their last four matches against the Blues, in­clud­ing the last time they played in Auckland, in 2015. This time though, the Blues will start as the favourites when the teams clash in New Zealand’s big­gest city on Satur­day.

Leon MacDonald’s team have been a trans­formed unit in the 2020 Su­per Rugby com­pe­ti­tion and will go into the game in third place in the New Zealand Con­fer­ence hav­ing won four of their six games.

All of those vic­to­ries were recorded away from home, with their two defeats hap­pen­ing at home – some­thing that will give the Li­ons some hope. The Blues though have en­joyed their out­ings against the South African teams and are un­de­feated in their last four matches against them.

Some pow­er­ful in­di­vid­ual per­for­mances have helped MacDonald’s men start their cam­paign on a high, with the stand­out be­ing wing Mark Te­lea, who is in his first sea­son of Su­per Rugby.

The 23-year-old winger has been in dev­as­tat­ing form, with five tries in six matches, but he’s also done plenty of dam­age in gen­eral play. Te­lea’s pace and power has seen him beat 41 de­fend­ers in his six out­ings, the most by some mar­gin so far this sea­son. Next on that list is the Sharks’ Aphelele Fassi, who’s beaten 31 de­fend­ers. The Li­ons’ most dan­ger­ous back has been wing Ty­rone Green, who’s beaten 20 de­fend­ers in five games.

Te­lea has also made the most “clean-breaks” – 12 to be the third best - but he’s not the only Blues player the Li­ons will have to keep in check.

Fel­low wing Joe Marchant has also had a good sea­son so far, with three tries, while full­back Stephen Pero­feta has car­ried strongly from the back.

And, the Li­ons best not for­get about dan­ger­ous All Blacks star Rieko Ioane, who’s now play­ing in mid­field, but they at least won’t have to worry about for­mer Hur­ri­canes man, Beauden Bar­rett, whose long-awaited de­but for the Blues is ex­pected only next month.

The Li­ons know they have to be stronger de­fen­sively this week­end if they’re to stand any chance of caus­ing an up­set and no-one knows that bet­ter than de­fence coach Sean Eras­mus.

“We’re way over the goals that we set as a de­fen­sive team,” said Eras­mus from Auckland. The Li­ons have let in 21 tries in their five matches.

Mean­while, for­mer Li­ons star Jaco Kriel, who was re­cruited from Glouces­ter late last year, is still nurs­ing an an­kle prob­lem and it’s been de­cided that he isn’t ready to play right now.

The team will be lead by Ross Cronje and will also see the re­turn from in­jury of fly­half Gianni Lom­bard, who’ll get 20 min­utes’ game time.

Flank Roelof Smit, who joined the Li­ons from the Bulls, will also get some ac­tion.

Ty­rone Green

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