The Queensland Reds can set themselves a launch pad for the rest of the Super Rugby season with victory on the road against surprise-packets the Lions.
Queensland have a history of running the Lions off their feet but the Reds won’t fall into the trap of playing loose and fancy in their critical Super Rugby encounter in Johannesburg this weekend.
Surprise packets the Lions have shown they’re a very different outfit to that who were perennial cellar-dwellers before being relegated from the competition last year.
They have steel, spirit and their much-improved defence is better equipped to handle expansive attacking play – as shown by last week’s 39-36 win over the Blues.
The Reds have traditionally ripped out an up-tempo, ball-in-hand game against the Lions that has reaped 13 tries in their past three successful meetings.
But coach Richard Graham denied his side would go looking for a high-scoring try-spree at Ellis Park on Sunday morning (AEDT).
“I think the Blues probably allowed too much freedom in the game last week,” he said.
“Certainly, we don’t want to go in there and loosen the game up.
“I think controlling the tempo is important.”
The Lions had been tipped to finish with the wooden-spoon but they have grown in confidence with each of their three wins to sit in fourth place on the table.
“This team is a very different team to the one people remembers from a few years ago,” Graham said.
“I liken them to the Cheetahs of two or three seasons ago when they really surprised teams with their innovative play.”
Maintaining a lop-sided record against the Lions is crucial for the Reds as it would give them a 3-2 launch pad after weathering a tough early draw that has seen them play four of their first five games on the road.
Despite the last-start 35-20 loss to the Sharks, Queensland impressed with their defence, set piece and attacking enterprise.
But they must improve their clutch handling and discipline at the breakdown to ensure that Lions sharp-shooter Marnitz Boshoff, averaging 19 points per game, is denied penalty and drop-goal opportunities.
Graham has been impressed by the unheralded five-eighth’s debut Super season but hinted the Reds will test his defence more than previous rivals.
“In each game he’s developed in confidence and with that confidence he’s used a wider array of skills,” he said.
” (But) I’d probably like to see him tackle more.”
Lions coach Johan Ackermann has made just one injury-enforced change to his side with Willie Wepener replacing injured hooker Robbie Coetzee (knee).