JOHANNESBURG – If last Friday’s 23-17 win against the Chiefs in Hamilton was a pleasant surprise, it would be a miracle if the Lions managed to make it two in a row by beating the Crusaders in Christchurch tomorrow.
A week ago the Lions players hardly had time to digest the fact that their coach Swys de Bruin was headed home to Johannesburg because of a stress-related medical condition, and defence coach Joey Mongalo, too, before they delivered a gutsy effort to down the error-ridden and somewhat out-of-sorts Chiefs.
This week the players have had time to think about what’s been going on in their coaching team. De Bruin is at home in Johannesburg, having been given time and space to deal with his condition, while Mongalo is set to face a Lions disciplinary hearing today after last week being convicted and sentenced for indecent assault in Sydney for an incident involving him and a hotel worker in Sydney last year.
And key hooker Malcolm Marx is also back in Johannesburg, having left the squad after the Chiefs game to apparently rest this weekend, according to the national contracted players’ game-time terms. Regular conditioning coach Ivan van Rooyen has taken up the coaching reins.
These are just the issues inside the Lions camp the players have had to deal with ahead of the game at AMI Stadium. The others are in front of them … in the Crusaders.
The Crusaders’ record against the Lions is one they will be proud of and keen to improve even further this week. The Crusaders have won 10 of their last 11 meetings; their only loss in that time being the 42-25 defeat suffered at Ellis Park in the 2016 semi-final.
And to make the Lions’ task that much more challenging this week is the fact that they have never won consecutive Super Rugby matches in New Zealand.
The Crusaders are a team to be respected and feared. They have scored 40 tries in their nine matches – the most by any team this year, and they have also made 119 clean breaks in open play, to also be first. They are a massively dangerous attacking threat, and again the Lions are going to have to be at another level defensively if they are to have a sniff.
They may not have All Blacks like Matt Todd, Scott Barrett and Owen Franks in their ranks this week but in players like David Havili, Sevu Reece, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge and Richie Mo’unga at the back, the defending champions have more than enough fire-power to test what could be a brittle Lions team.
The Lions squad is:
Ruan Combrinck, Sylvian Mahuza, Lionel Mapoe, Elton Jantjies, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Shaun Reynolds, Nic Groom, Warren Whiteley (capt), Cyle Brink, Kwagga Smith, Marvin Orie, Stephan Lewies, Carlu Sadie, Robbie Coetzee, Sti Sithole.
Replacements: Jan-Henning Campher, Nathan McBeth, Johannes Jonker, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Ross Cronje, Franco Naude, Tyrone Green