The Lions’ lead in their Super Rugby conference is coming under threat and they will have to fly in the face of history to stop the trend this weekend.
The Jaguares‚ thanks to four consecutive wins in Australasia‚ have crept up on Swys de Bruin’s team, who still head their conference by seven points.
The Lions face a taxing final stretch in the league stages. They need to win away at the Highlanders this weekend to stretch their lead over the Jaguares, who have a bye this week.
However, the Lions have won only once in Dunedin, in 2011. The size of their task becomes even greater when you consider the Highlanders have suffered only two defeats to South African opposition at home in the past five seasons.
Historically‚ the Highlanders and Lions are closely matched — only one of their last 13 clashes has produced a winner by 12 points or more. What the Lions have in their favour is the fact that they will be waiting for the hosts on their home patch for the initial part of the week.
The Highlanders would have boarded four flights to get home from Durban and are likely to feel the effects of their travel. But they will be desperate to bounce back from their defeat to the Sharks last weekend.
It was not so much the defeat as the manner in which it came that rankled with coach Aaron Mauger. He lamented the fact that his team’s energy levels were down and that they could not match the physicality of the Sharks.
The Highlanders are likely to be without rising midfielder Rob Thompson, who picked up a head injury against the Sharks‚ while the Lions will be without classy hooker Malcolm Marx.