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Blues v Lions Preview

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There should be plenty of thrilling action when the tournament's two bottom-placed teams face off in Albany on Saturday.

The Blues and the Lions are desperate to hit the victory trail after losing their three opening matches.

Both sides were competitive in those previous games but have little to show for their endeavours and will be keen to be rewarded this weekend.

The home side were competitive in their opening match against the Chiefs before seing their chances of claiming a win evaporate when Hayden Triggs was red-carded against the Stormers in their second match. And they were unlucky to go down by a point against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last weekend.

The Lions' have only themselves to blame for losing their previous match against the Stormers - as they held a 10-0 lead at one stage - and prior to that there were defeats against the Hurricanes and the Sharks.

In the past, the score in this fixture has always been very high – the average aggregate score is more than 57 points, with three of the last four clashes between the two teams yielding 70 points or more.

Despite his side's poor start to the season, Blues boss Sir John Kirwan is not panicking and believes they will turn the corner soon.

"I think the team has been performing well – it was just discipline one week and execution the following one," he said.

"We just need to put a performance together. I'm really happy with the way we're playing.

"We're creating try-scoring opportunities, and the guys have to understand when we play our style of football it's working for us. We just need to be patient with ball in hand."

Lions coach Johan Ackermann expects a big onslaught from their hosts.

“You have to assume that the Blues will lay the foundation for most of the possession and territory, so we’ll have to be on the lookout for opportunities to counter-attack," he said.

“Obviously we’d like to keep employing our attacking game plan, but we also have to be realistic. Visiting teams seldom dominate the play in New Zealand.

"We expect a very attacking Blues team. But that could create opportunities for mistakes and if that happens, then we have to cash in.”

Last time out: The last game between these sides was a high-scoring affair which was in the balance until its conclusion. The Lions raced into a 17-0 half-time lead and although they were eventually outscored by five tries to three, Marnitz Boshoff's boot proved the difference as contributed 24 points - via four penalties, three conversions and two drop goals - in his side's 39-36 victory.

His side's other points came through tries by Faf de Klerk, Courtnal Skosan and Coenie van Wyk. For the Blues, Charles Piutau, Bryn Hall, Frank Halai, George Moala and Benji Marshall scored tries while Chris Noakes kicked a penalty and a conversion and Simon Hickey also added a two-pointer.

Players to watch: The Blues have several attacking threats in their side but keep an eye on playmaker Ihaia West, who has impressed in all three their previous matches. For the Lions, flanker Jaco Kriel is an exciting prospect with an impressive skillset.

Team news: All Blacks hooker Keven Mealamu will break the Super Rugby appearance record - which he currently shares with former Wallabies, Reds and Western Force lock Nathan Sharpe - when he runs out for the 163rd time in the competition. Of his previous matches, Mealamu has played for the Blues on 151 occasion and also represented the Chiefs in 11 matches in 2002. The 35-year-old replaces James Parsons and is joined in the front row by Ofa Tu’ungafasi, who packs down at loosehead prop. Steven Luatua also returns on the blindside flank while Frank Halai and Francis Saili return to the run-on side on the wing and at centre respectively.

The Lions have made two changes to their starting line-up. Up front, Corne Fourie starts at loosehead prop in place of Schalk van der Merwe while Ross Cronje comes in at scrum-half with Faf de Klerk shifting down to the bench.

Form: Both these sides are yet to win a game this season. The Blues suffered losses to the Chiefs, Stormers and Cheetahs in their previous matches and have wracked up two bonus points for losing by seven or less points in the process.

The Lions' defeats came against the Hurricanes, Sharks and Stormers and they have only managed to muster one-point after their loss to the Stormers in Johannesburg last weekend which leaves them languishing at the bottom of the table, one spot below the Blues.

Previous results:

2014: Lions won 39-36 in Johannesburg
2012: Blues won 25-3 in Auckland
2011: Blues won 41-32 in Johannesburg
2010: Blues won 56-14 in Johannesburg

Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Charles Piutau, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi.
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Brendon O'Connor, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Hamish Northcott.

Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Corne Fourie.
Replacements: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Howard Mnisi.

Date: Saturday, March 7
Kick-off: 19.35 local (06.35 GMT, 17.35 AEDT, 08.35 SAST)
Venue: QBE Stadium, North Harbour
Referee: Matt O'Brien
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe, Brendon Pickerill
Television match official: Glen Newman


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