Mitchell’s Lions excited by Crusaders challenge

Playing the Crusaders is a prospect most teams would loathe, but it is a challenge Lions coach John Mitchell looks forward to ahead of his side’s clash against the New Zealand giants in Johannesburg on Saturday.

“I’ve had success against them, I guess, and also I’ve coached a fair amount of them when I was All Blacks coach,” Mitchell said on Friday.

“So I have a pretty good idea of how the players function, and how the culture has continued regardless of the transition of people.”

The Lions mentor would have taken note of how the Cheetahs nearly beat the most successful side in Super Rugby history last week.

The seven-time champions and last year’s runners-up have had a stuttering start to their campaign, winning two of their four matches.

The Crusaders, however, are a wily bunch, never to be underestimated, and Mitchell said he had immense respect for the tourists.

“They are an exceptional outfit. They have set the benchmark along with the Bulls in this competition since its inception and you’ve got to realise they do actually have great capability,” Mitchell said.

“But in saying that, it is not something we over-focus on.

“We haven’t played them for two years, and we are excited to have them at home.”

The Lions coach made one change to their starting XV on Friday.

Alwyn Hollenbach replaced Doppies la Grange – who was ruled out for 12 weeks due to injury – in the midfield.

The hosts, having suffered a plethora of injures, also welcomed back flyhalf Elton Jantjies who joined Lionel Mapoe (also returning from injury) on the bench.

The return of both key players could signal their upsurge in the competition after they won only one of their five matches this year.

“We’ve been transparent about the when the injury situation occurred but at no stage have we made any excuses or any explanations for the injuries,” Mitchell said.

“The team’s very consistent and we are very fortunate that Alwyn is coming back into number 12. He is experienced and a very good carrier.”

While most team’s would not hesitate to include a player like Jantjies in the run-on side, Mitchell showed consistency in his selection policy.

“It is very good to bring players back through the bench and at the end of the day they have got to earn their right back. Reputations mean nothing to us,” he said.

The Lions will also have to contend with the return of the Crusaders’ enigmatic flyhalf, Dan Carter.

Mitchell said it would be imperative for his side to pressurise the Crusaders’ forward pack if they wanted to force Carter to make mistakes.

“It is up to us as a team to put their forward pack under pressure so that we can get to nine and make Dan’s day a little bit more difficult.”

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