Highlanders ready for 'Kiwi derby'
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Highlanders assistant coach Tony Brown believes that the Lions' fast-paced, attacking approach to the game is similar to that of the New Zealand teams.
Speaking ahead of the Highlanders' Super Rugby semifinal clash against the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday, Brown praised the Lions for their style of play throughout the season.
"They have a different mind-set around how to play the game," Brown told a media gathering at the team's base in Johannesburg.
"Traditionally South African teams are built around a strong forward pack, but the Lions are built around playing at speed and moving the ball as quick as they can and then getting their big forwards running in the open field.
"For myself just watching it's been sort of just watching a New Zealand team," said Brown.
Brown added that both team's halfback combinations are full of skill and running, which makes for an exciting contest in this area of the game.
"The last two years those guys [Francois de Klerk and Elton Jantjies] have been playing outstanding footy.
"[Lions coach] Johan [Ackermann] has got the team going awesome and those two guys are key, they play at speed they see space really well and they move the ball into space as good as anyone in the world.
"It's going to be a great challenge, because we tend to play quite a similar style, our No.9 and N.10 tend to do the same thing and it's going to be very exciting for the public to watch," Brown added.
The last time the two teams played each other - in Round Three in Dunedin - the Highlanders managed to defeat the Lions 34-15.
However, with this match being played at a different venue and the Lions having improved since that last encounter, Brown acknowledged that it is a completely different game this time round.
"That was some three or four months ago that game and they've improved as a team, so I think the style of the game is going to be the same but for us we are not going to take too much out of that game," said the All Black.
Highlanders captain Ben Smith further upped the ante by saying that the atmosphere and preparations surrounding the game are similar to that of a Test-match.
"I think just like a Test match, these play-off games and the excitement levels for the players are right up there - because everyone wants to get out and these are the games you want to be part of," Smith said.
"You want to be playing playoff rugby and you want to be making a push for the finals and both teams this weekend have got an opportunity to do that so I think it's exciting," added Smith.
By Josh Isaacson