The trendsetting Lions would do well to utilise their lineout strengths in the crucial game against the Bulls and in the playoffs, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Can the Bulls stop the Lions’ maul in the Jukskei derby at Ellis Park this Saturday? It will be easier said than done, as Bulls coach John Mitchell admitted in the wake of his side’s recent win over the Jaguares.
The Lions won’t want for motivation this weekend. They need one more win to finish at the top of the South African conference and secure home advantage in the quarter-finals.
They would do well to utilise their strength at the lineout. No team has scored more tries than the Lions (71) in the 2018 Super Rugby tournament, and no team has scored more tries than the Lions (34) from first phase.
The latter stat – and even the former – highlights the Lions’ strength at the scrums and lineouts. They boast an expansive reputation, and perhaps don’t get enough credit for their execution in these areas.
Indeed, as we head into the final round of the conference phase, it’s interesting to note that most of the top-ranked sides possess outstanding set-piece stats, and have utilised the maul to telling effect.
The Lions have led the way, followed by the Crusaders (32 first-phase tries out of a total of 69), Waratahs (29 out of 70) and Hurricanes (28 out of 62). The Bulls have battled this season, and are currently in last place on the South African log. What may be pleasing for Mitchell and company to see is that they rank fifth for tries scored from first phase (22 tries out of 57).
What may set the two Gauteng sides apart this week is the defence at first phase. The Hurricanes and Crusaders have been streets ahead in this department, conceding only nine tries apiece. The Lions have conceded 17 tries from first phase and the Bulls 20.
Decision-making will be absolutely crucial in the coming clash at Ellis Park. One way to stop the maul, or rather prevent the opposition from setting it, is to win the ball off the opposition throw.
Lood de Jager (55) ranks third in the competition for lineout wins, despite the fact that he has been sidelined with an injury for some time. The Bulls may miss a player of his calibre in a contest shaped by the battle at the lineout.
The Lions possess the best lineout exponent in the competition. Franco Mostert has played lock and flank for his franchise this season. That hasn’t affected his role at the lineout, though.
Mostert (65) has won more lineouts (off his team’s feed) than any other player in the tournament. He’s ranked second for lineout steals (13) behind Guido Petti (15) of the Jaguares.
The Lions recently welcomed back Warren Whiteley and Malcolm Marx from injuries. Marx has played a key role at the lineout in recent years – as a thrower and as the man at the back of the maul, as has Whiteley – in his capacity as a jumper at the tail.
The Lions should have too much firepower for the Bulls in this department. They should also be looking to build some momentum ahead of possible meetings with the Highlanders, Waratahs, Hurricanes and Crusaders in the playoffs.
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