Will lack of Kiwi opposition kill off the Lions?

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 10:54

SUPER RUGBY SEMIFINAL SPOTLIGHT: Are the Lions about to pay the price for their lack of New Zealand opposition?

It is a question that will only be answered when they host the Hurricanes at Ellis Park on Saturday - a replay of last year's Final.

It will be the Lions' first New Zealand opposition of the protracted season that started back in mid-February.

Last year the Stormers suffered in the quarterfinals because of a lack of New Zealand opposition.

Despite winning 10 of their 15 matches, the same as this year, and topping the Africa One conference, the Stormers lost 21-60 to a dominant Chiefs team at Newlands in 2016.

Twelve months on and the same teams met at Newlands again, the Chiefs winning only 17-11.

And Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said the more competitive nature of the game can be directly related to the fact the Stormers played in the New Zealand half the draw and not against Australian teams as last year.

"They [the Stormers] have played five Kiwis [New Zealand teams] this year and were well aware of the intensity required," Rennie told a media briefing at Newlands at the weekend.

"Last year [in the quarterfinal at Newlands] we just shocked them," he said, adding: "They had not played any Kiwi sides and the intensity and pace at which we played [took them by surprise].

"We were very accurate last year [in the 2016 quarterfinal].

"[This year] they are a lot fitter. They have a far better understanding of the game they want to play and how to defend against Kiwi sides."

However, the questions is: 'How will the Lions' lack of New Zealand opposition affect them in the semifinal?'

The Lions, who played in the Aussie side of the draw this year, won 14 of their 15 matches - the same as New Zealand's top team, the Crusaders - but topped the standings because collected more bonus points.

Rennie still rates the Lions a good prospect of advancing to a second successive Final.

"The Hurricanes have to travel over here [to South Africa]," the Chiefs coach said.

"I can imagine the Hurricanes were sitting in Sydney cheering for the Sharks [whom the Lions beat 23-21 to advance to the semifinal].

"They will on  plane to Johannesburg and it is tough to win there [at Ellis Park].

"If they [the Hurricanes] do win, they will have to travel all they way to New Zealand to play [in the Final].

"The road becomes a little bit tougher for them."

Rennie said he "rates" the Lions.

"They beat us in Hamilton last year," he said, adding: "They made a Final.

"To be honest, if that Final had been in Johannesburg they maybe would have won it.

"They are right up there.

"If they [the Lions] win and we win, we will have to come back to Johannesburg.

"We will be happy with whatever happens, as long as we win."

Lions captain Jaco Kriel felt his team will heed the wake-up call the Sharks gave them in the quarterfinal at Ellis Park this past Saturday.

"It was definitely not easy, but that's the way you learn," Kriel told a media briefing at Ellis Pak.

"When you have to work hard for things as it builds your character.

"We have a lot of hard work to do, with the Hurricanes coming up."

Lions coach Johan Ackermann also felt that his team will benefit more from a close game, than if they had run away with it in the quarterfinal.

"One thing is for certain, they [the Hurricanes] are going to be in our faces the whole time," Ackermann said.

"The Sharks were like that as well, so perhaps we had a bit of a rehearsal."

The Lions have once again kept ticket prices lower than the norm in South Africa - with tickets priced at ZAR80, ZAR120, ZAR275 and ZAR380.

By Jan de Koning
@king365ed
@rugby365com

* Additional reporting by Josh Isaacson
@isaacson_j

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Fri, 15 December 2017
Ulster v Harlequins 19h45 Kingspan Stadium
Sat, 16 December 2017
Montpellier v Glasgow Warriors 13h00 Altrad Stadium
Treviso v Scarlets 13h00 Stadio Comunale di Monigo
Leinster v Exeter Chiefs 15h15 Aviva Stadium
Racing Metro v Castres 15h15 Stade Yves-du-Manoir
Bath v Toulon 17h30 Recreation Ground
Sun, 17 December 2017
Wasps v La Rochelle 13h00 Ricoh Arena
Clermont Auvergne v Saracens 15h15 Stade Marcel-Michelin
Ospreys v Northampton Saints 15h15 Liberty Stadium
Leicester Tigers v Munster 17h30 Welford Road
RESULT SCORE
Mon, 11 December 2017
Saracens v Clermont Auvergne 14 | 46
Sun, 10 December 2017
Exeter Chiefs v Leinster 8 | 18
Harlequins v Ulster 5 | 17
La Rochelle v Wasps 49 | 29
Sat, 09 December 2017
Munster v Leicester Tigers 33 | 10
Castres v Racing Metro 16 | 13
Northampton Saints v Ospreys 32 | 43
Toulon v Bath 24 | 20
Scarlets v Treviso 33 | 28
Fri, 08 December 2017
Glasgow Warriors v Montpellier 22 | 29
Sun, 03 December 2017
Harlequins v Saracens 20 | 19
Sat, 02 December 2017
Cheetahs v Scarlets 28 | 21
Munster v Ospreys 36 | 10
Wasps v Leicester Tigers 32 | 25
Treviso v Leinster 10 | 36
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Hurricanes 15 12 0 3 58
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Highlanders 15 11 0 4 51
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