Preview: Lions v Highlanders

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Friday, May 8, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Sunday 10 May at 1am (NZST)
Ellis Park, Johannesburg

Played: 7, 2006-2014 (DNP 2012, 2013)
Lions wins: 4
Highlanders wins: 3

Lions points: 182
Highlanders points: 178

Last match: Highlanders 23 Lions 22, 10.05.14 in Dunedin

Round 13 teams:

Form: Some might have grumbled it was business as usual for the Lions after three losses to open their season (including two defeats in Johannesburg), but then they went to New Zealand and it all changed.

A win in Albany was followed by a heavy defeat against a rampant Crusaders, but then victories in Melbourne and Brisbane were followed three more wins – as the Bulls, Sharks and Cheetahs were sent packing from Ellis Park.

Tenth overall but just four competition points outside the top six, this is one of three remaining home matches for the Lions, but they have just five regular season fixtures remaining so time is not on their side.

They have also scored just 18 tries this season, well below the educated attack of the Highlanders, who have registered 29 tries while they sit in the top half of most offensive stats.

The tourists form has been strong, winning seven from 11, but their 31-18 loss to the Brumbies a fortnight ago was telling – their three All Blacks were rested and the side looked a different beast.

With six games remaining, five on the road, it is imperative that Jamie Joseph’s side hits the ground running and ideally wins at least one of two matches on South African soil.

Key players: Look no further than Warren Whiteley, the Lions number eight who is surely some type of cyborg.

The small (by Republic standards) flanker has made 163 tackles this season to lead Investec Super Rugby. To put this in perspective, fellow Lions back row forward Warwick Tecklenburg has made 123 tackles and is in equal second place (with Boom Pinsloo).

Out wide Marnitz Boshoff isn’t the flashiest of playmakers, but his control with the boot is often immaculate, while the side isn’t embarrassed to let the sniper takes the points – you will not often see this Lions team take unnecessary risks.

The Highlanders forwards will not be used to such a mobile South African pack so will need to be ready for a lung busting expedition at Ellis Park, although this will suit the likes of Dan Pryor and Thomas Franklin.

While the All Blacks backs and Waisake Naholo are danger men, Patrick Osborne has emerged as one of the real threats of the competition, putting together some crazy attacking numbers in recent weeks that is outshining his illustrious team-mates.

Squad update: Lions head coach Johan Ackermann has made a double change in the front row, with Schalk van der Merwe starting at loosehead and Robbie Coetzee taking his place at hooker.

The backline features a host of changes, with Ross Cronje, Courtnall Skosan and Alwyn Hollenbach coming into the side, while Marnitz Boshoff and Andries Coetzee shift to 10 and 15 respectively.

The Highlanders are unchanged.

However Joseph has included Ross Geldenhuys and John Hardie on the bench, ensuring there is some hard working legs ready to come off the pine in the dying stages of the match.