Tue 18 Mar 2014 | 08:19
Lions no wooden spoon contenders
Tue 18 Mar 2014 | 08:19
Lions no wooden spoon contendersSHARE
Reds coach Richard Graham says the new breed of Lions bear no resemblance to the perennial wooden spoon contenders the team was before their hiatus in 2013.
The Lions are sitting fourth on the Super Rugby standings, having won three of their five matches so far this season and defeated the Blues 39-36 last weekend – their first victory over the side from Auckland since 2006.
Graham is certainly not underestimating the challenge his team will face on Saturday.
He said that his side had travelled to Johannesburg early to get as much preparation at altitude as possible before the game against the revitalised Lions, who he feels are nothing like the franchise which was dumped from the competition last year.
"The 2014 Lions side is unrecognisable to the side from 2012," Graham told AAP.
"They've made a raft of changes in their squad having being relegated last year. [They] have come back with a young group, full of energy and playing a good brand of rugby.
"You've got a young group that doesn't bear the scars of their previous history."
Graham has also been impressed by in-form Lions flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff, and knows his team will have to improve their discipline (after they conceded seven penalty goals in their 20-35 loss to the Sharks last week) with the threat of Boshoff's boot looking to punish them.
"You've got a 10 at the moment, whilst he's only four games into his Super Rugby career, [and] he's full of confidence and kicking goals from anywhere, – from 60 metres out," Graham remarked.
The weary Reds, who shed over 60kg of combined body weight in the humid conditions of Durban in their loss to the Sharks last weekend, will have to adjust quickly to the altitude and unusually rainy conditions in Johannesburg for the clash with the Lions.
Reds flank Eddie Quirk echoed his coach's sentiments and said making the most of limited opportunities to prepare for conditions will be crucial.
"The altitude's probably the main thing training-wise that you have to adapt to and it's just a different place.
"The majority of the South African teams are big and physical.
That's exactly what we expected from the Sharks and they gave us that. We've got to take the same attributes into this week against the Lions.
"Nothing really changes except we've probably got to perform better," Quirk added.