Defence key for Lions
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.