Preview: Blues v Lions

The Lions, however, have been the competition's surprise packet and, with four straight wins, are having their best season since Laurie Mains was in charge.

VENUE & TIME: Eden Park, Auckland, Saturday March 10, 19.35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 11 � Blues 7, Transvaal/Gauteng/Cats 4.

LAST TIME: May 6, 2006 (Johannesburg) � Cats 34-33 Blues.

WALKING WOUNDED: Neither side has much to complain about and, apart from Anthony Tuitavake's hamstring injury, neither coach had any injury concerns.

FORM: The Blues took a while to get on top of the Highlanders last week but that was more due to poor finishing in the first half than anything else. It was noticeable that they tightened the game after halftime and eventually the tries came; there was only one team in it long before the end. The Lions recovered after gifting the Reds a dream start and it took some time before all the lost ground was clawed back. Cool heads and Earl Rose's unerring boot got the side home for the fourth week running; in each case the opposition has taken a consolation point, so that has to say something about the Lions' composure under pressure.

WHO'S HOT: Every week we give Troy Flavell a mention and every week he comes up with the goods; few would argue he is the form player of the whole competition. Jerome Kaino had a good match last week, as did Daniel Braid. The backs put it together at times but failed to do so at others when tries were on offer; for all that, they are at least creating opportunities yet David Nucifora has made a huge call and changed his five-eighth pairing this week, replacing both Isakela Nacewa and Luke McAlister. If you believe the propaganda out of South Africa, the Lions' chances in this match begin and end with Andre Pretorius. We say rubbish � the Lions have won with him and they've won without him. He adds a lot to the team, naturally, but this is no one-man band. Earl Rose had a perfect kicking night at Brisbane and the forwards all played with their usual vigour. Ernst Joubert has been particularly impressive, while the tight five has been a strong unit. New prop Brian Mujati is proving something of a find and has scrummaged powerfully. Unlike some previous Lions teams, the 2007 unit can and does tackle from 1 to 22.

WE THINK: We can't see the Lions getting up in this one, despite all their recent good form. The Blues are far more dangerous than the Force or the Reds and will put the Lions defence under pressure it has not seen since the Crusaders match � when the Jo'burg lads tackled their hearts out and, aided by some dumb play from the visitors, snatched a famous win. The Blues will be smarter than the Crusaders were and, while they will have to work very hard, we tip the home team by 10 points.

TEAMS:

Blues:1 � Saimone Taumoepeau, 2 � Derren Witcombe, 3 � John Afoa, 4 � Greg Rawlinson, 5 � Troy Flavell (captain), 6 � Jerome Kaino, 7 � Daniel Braid, 8 � Nick Williams, 9 � David Gibson, 10 � David Holwell, 11 � Rudi Wulf, 12 � Sam Tuitupou, 13 � Isaia Toeava, 14 � Doug Howlett, 15 � Ben Atiga.

Reserves: 16 � Chris Heard, 17 � Nick White, 18 � Anthony Boric, 19 � Angus Macdonald, 20 � Steve Devine, 21 � Isa Nacewa, 22 � Luke McAlister.

Lions:1 � Heinke van der Merwe, 2 � Willie Wepener, 3 � Brian Mujati, 4 � Cobus Grobler, 5 �Anton van Zyl, 6 � Cobus Grobbelaar, 7 � Ernst Joubert (captain), 8 � Jacques Cronje, 9 � Enrico Januarie, 10 � Andre Pretorius, 11 � Jaco Pretorius, 12 � Doppies la Grange, 13 � Jaque Fourie, 14 � Louis Ludik, 15 � Earl Rose.

Reserves: 16 � Ethienne Reynecke, 17 � Bertus Smit, 18 � Franco van der Merwe, 19 � Willem Alberts, 20 � Jano Vermaak, 21 � Louis Strydom, 22 � Jaco van Schalkwyk.

REFEREE: Paul Marks