The Lions match-up with the Blues should be the true barometer of their Super Rugby aptitude.
Loffie Eloff’s side scraped a one-point win in Bloemfontein but will be well aware of the threat the Blues present. The Auckland franchise swept past the Chiefs in the first round, turning it on in the final quarter to win 32-14.
Lions centre Jaco Pretorius gave the Blues their due, but told keo.co.za the visitors are by no means unbeatable. The Blues didn’t do well in South Africa last year, losing to the Stormers and Bulls before going down to the Sharks in the semi-finals.
Nevertheless, they are still favourites to make the top four in 2008.
“Everybody knows this will be toughest game of the entire competition, as under the new laws their firepower in both the forwards and backs will be magnified,” Pretorius said. “They have a very mobile pack that look to have adapted well to the ELVs, so we will certainly have our hands full.
“But it’s never easy to travel to Ellis Park. I also believe the new laws suit our style of play as well. We missed a few opportunities last week, but we can’t afford to do so against a team like the Blues.”
The Lions were thumped 41-14 in Auckland last year, but Pretorius said his side have shown enough potential to force another upset.
“It was hugely important to win that first game for so many reasons. Firstly, there was the pressure of playing away from home and secondly it was the first game of the tournament.
“It was a huge psychological boost not only to win but win playing our own game. We built nicely through the phases and spread the ball well. We’ve taken plenty of confidence from that encounter.”
Pretorius and centre partner Doppies la Grange will face Benson Stanley and Isaia Toeava, a combination that has one game under its belt. Stanley has settled quickly in the Blues midfield and is gelling well with Toeava, a man Pretorius is looking forward to opposing.
“That’s why you play rugby, and I can honestly say I see the prospect of Isaia Toeava as an opportunity to prove myself rather than as a threat. Last year he was the best outside centre in the world.
“Stanley is very much in the mould of [Sam] Tuitupou and looks quite strong. But those are just two guys, you could write pages of praise for that whole Blues backline. They’re all natural ball players and are all dangerous in space,” he said.
Kicking has played it’s part under the new laws, but at Ellis Park, the Lions will be reluctant to hand the Blues too much possession.
“The Blues are great counter-attackers so if you’re going to kick, it needs to be spot on,” said Pretorius. “To be honest, I can’t see too much kicking on their back-three, as they have been know to rip open defences from their own 22.”
By Jon Cardinelli