Preview: Lions v Kings

‘Portrush is like playing at home’ says Jon Rahm

The Lions will have the opportunity to win their fifth game on the trot and further cement their place at the top of the combined Super Rugby table when they take on the Kings at Emirates Airlines Park on Friday.

The Johannesburg based outfit managed to secure Africa 2 conference honours last weekend with a resounding 37-10 victory over the Sharks which put them 12 points clear of their nearest rivals with only two games of the regular season remaining.

The one sided victory was just reward for the Super Rugby frontrunners who outscored their opponents by five tries to two with winger Ruan Combrinck, centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg, hooker Malcolm Marx, number eight Ruan Ackermann and flanker Jaco Kriel all crossing the whitewash for the Lions.

The Kings on the other hand were competitive for the majority of the 80 minutes against the Highlanders last weekend before running out of steam in the final quarter of the game en route to a 48-18 defeat.

The teams have only met on one previous occasion, which was back in April when the Lions beat the Kings 45-10 with a fantastic display of attacking rugby which was built on first phase possession and using turnover ball to great effect which yielded them no less than seven tries.

There was a clear difference in class between the two teams the last time they met and the bad news for the Kings this time round is that the Lions are looking like real title contenders with every passing match.

There will be no less than six Springboks who will form part of the Lions starting team for this encounter while the Kings do not have the luxury of having any sort of international experience in their ranks.

Scrum-half Faf de Klerk looks to be in the form of his life at the moment and with the Lions possessing not only international players in their squad but also a team culture which is getting the best out of the players it will require something special from this Kings team to leave Johannesburg with the victory.

The team from Port Elizabeth will be required to put in a big effort on defence and make the opportunities count with ball in hand if they are to be competitive against a Lions team who have managed to restrict their opposition to only 13 minutes and 13 seconds worth of possession in each game.

The set-piece should be an even contest with the home team boasting an 89% lineout success which is matched by that of the Kings who hold a 90% success rate.

The scrum should also be an eagerly awaited contest with both teams sitting on 90% for their efforts while the ruck paints a similar story with both teams tied up at 94%.

The Kings have missed an average of 25.5 tackles per a game and if they continue with this defensive record against a team that have made an average of 114.4 carries per a game along with 12.4 clean breaks and 26.8 defenders beaten they will surely be on a hiding to nothing.

The Lions run-in to the play-offs will culminate with a trip to Argentina where they will face the Jaguares in their final game of the regular season next weekend before they find out who they will face in the quarter-finals, while the Kings will travel to Cape Town next weekend to take on the  Africa 1 conference leaders, the Stormers. 

The last time the teams met: The Lions had a field day with ball in hand as they ran in seven tries en route to a 45-10 bonus point victory over the Kings. The Port Elizabeth based team did not do themselves any favours with their lack of discipline leading to flanker Thembelani Bholi being sent to the sin-bin after they were warned that one more infringement would lead to a card being shown. With the Kings reduced to 14 players and already playing catch-up it was only a matter of time until the floodgates opened. Hooker Armand  van der Merwe and wing Ruan Combrinck both grabbed a double for the Lions while fly-half Elton Jantjies contributed with ten points off the boot from five successful conversions.

Players to watch: Lions stand in captain Jaco Kriel was absolutely sensational in leading his team to victory over the Sharks last weekend. The skilful flanker contributed with some powerful carries down the wide channels and managed to dot down for a five-pointer during this encounter. Kriel has beaten 42 defenders in 13 matches and he will be looking to add to that tally come the end of the 80 minutes on Friday. In the backs, Springbok centre Lionel Mapoe has been a revelation with ball in hand. His statistics read: nine tries scored coupled with 22 clean breaks and 18 offloads. 

As for the Kings they will look to hooker Edgar Marutlulle to lead them from the front and provide them with some much needed front foot ball to work with. The Kings hooker often runs into the line on a good angle and manages to find space behind the opposition defence. Marutlulle has managed to score four tries for his team this season and he has also contributed with 94 accurate throws at the lineout. Kings’ lock John-Charles Astle will be required to continue his good form at reading the lineout which has seen him win 64 lineouts in 13 matches.

Team news: Lions coach Johan Ackermann has consistency on his side and he has been able to choose the same starting team which did battle against the Sharks last weekend. Flanker Jaco Kriel will once again lead the team while Ruan Ackermann continues at number eight in the absence of the injured Warren Whiteley.

In the backs, fly-half Elton Jantjies will form the half-back combination alongside scrum-half Faf de Klerk and Rohan Janse van Rensburg will form the centre combination with Lionel Mapoe. Full-back Andries Coetzee will be supported by wingers Courtnall Skosan and Ruan Combrinck in a powerful looking back three trio.

Meanwhile, Kings head coach Deon Davids has made six changes to his run on team for this clash. Hooker Edgar Marutlulle will skipper the side after Steven Sykes withdrew from the match day squad due to personal reasons. Four changes up front see Sti Sithole rotating with Schalk Ferreira at loosehead prop, while Jacobie Adriaanse returns at tighthead after missing last week's game against the Highlanders due to a calf strain and Schalk Oelosfe comes in at lock in place of Sykes.

Davids has also opted to start with James Hall at scrum-half, who returns from playing for the SA U20s in England. At fly-half, Elgar Watts moves onto the bench, with Louis Fouche starting.Making his debut for the Southern Kings and earning his first start in the Super Rugby competition is Andile Ntsila, who joined the Kings on loan from the SWD Eagles on Tuesday.

Form: There are currently 38 points separating the two teams with the Johannesburg-based outfit sitting on 47 points from 13 games which includes a record of ten wins and three losses while the Kings season could not be any more different as they have only managed two wins from 13 games which leaves them languishing on seventh place in the South African group with only nine points collected thus far.

Prediction: The Lions have made easy weather of their local conference challengers in this year’s Super Rugby tournament and they are yet to lose against a South African team. The men from Johannesburg are simply playing winning rugby at the moment and they should be able to record another one sided victory. Lions to beat the Kings by 30 points. 

Previous result:

2016: Lions won 45-10 in Port Elizabeth 

The teams:

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel (c), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith
Replacements: 16 Armand Van Der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Sylvian Mahuza

Kings: 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Lukhanyo Am, 13 Stefan Watermeyer, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Wandile Mjekevu, 10 Louis Fouche, 9 James Hall, 8 Aidon Davis, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Andisa Ntsila, 5 JC Astle, 4 Schalk Oelofse, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Edgar Marutlulle (c), 1 Sti Sithole
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Sintu Manjezi, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Ntando Kebe, 22 Dewald Human, 23 Jeremy Ward

Date: Friday, July 8
Venue: Ellis Park, Johanesburg
Kick-off: 19:00 local (17:00 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Referees: Jaco Peyper, Ben Crouse
TMO: Johann Greeff