WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) The Johannesburg-based Lions will be aiming to defend a 19-match winning streak when they face the Cape Town-based Stormers in this weekend’s eighth round in Super Rugby.
The Lions’ unbeaten run in matches against South African rivals stretches back three years and 13 of those matches have been won by 12 points or more. Their last loss was to the Stormers in 2015.
But the Lions have lost three of their last four games, going down to the Auckland-based Blues, to Argentina’s Jaguares and to the Christchurch-based Crusaders in a repeat of last year’s final while only narrowly avoiding a fourth loss, to Japan’s Sunwolves.
The Stormers beat the Blues and the Queensland Reds after returning from a winless tour to Australia and New Zealand but were beaten last weekend by the Pretoria-based Bulls.
The Lions remain atop the South African conference, six points clear of the Stormers, but the clash on Saturday is likely to be closer than that gap suggests.
Lions prop Jacques van Rooyen said derby matches are more intense than other games.
”There is that extra motivation to prove yourself against your countrymen,” he told the Sunday Times. ”After the game they must know they played against one of the better sides in Super Rugby.”
A Lions win on Saturday would lengthen their lead in the South African conference and give them breathing space near the midpoint of the regular season.
The New South Wales Waratahs have a chance to shorten the lead of the Melbourne Rebels in the Australian conference when they play the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday. The Rebels, who lead by six points after last weekend’s loss at home to the Hurricanes, have a bye in the eighth round.
The ACT Brumbies and Queensland Reds meet in Canberra in a match critical to both team’s chances.
The Reds are currently third in the Australian conference, seven points behind the Rebels while the Brumbies are fourth, 11 points from the lead and ahead only of the Sunwolves.
The Brumbies have yet to win a derby match this season and lock Rory Arnold said the time has come to prove their competitiveness against their Australian rivals.
”We’ve got a long way to go in the season, it’s not make or break, but we do identify it’s a big game for us,” Arnold said. ”We’re probably not where we want to be on the table.
”We haven’t won a game against an Australian franchise yet so it is a big game for us and we have to get the result this week.”
A tight race continues in the New Zealand conference in which the Wellington-based Hurricanes and the Crusaders are tied on 19 points and only five points cover the first four teams.
The Hurricanes take on the Durban-based Sharks on Friday, wary after the Sharks crushing win over the Blues last weekend.
The Hamilton-based Chiefs take on the Blues, having already beaten them once this season. The Blues languish at the bottom of the New Zealand conference with one win from five games.
The Crusaders take on the Jaguares in Buenos Aires while the Highlanders have a bye, allowing them to regroup after last weekend’s loss to the Chiefs.