Preview: Kings v Lions

Perennial strugglers the Kings host one of the tournament's frontrunners, the Lions, in what promises to be an exciting clash in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

Although the Kings have battled once again, they will be highly motivated to get the better of their South African rival in what will be the first ever clash at Super Rugby level between these sides.

The Lions were booted out of Super Rugby at the end of 2012 to make way for the Kings, but earned the right to return when they ousted the Eastern Cape franchise in a tightly contested two-leg promotion play-off at the end of 2013.

And things have just got better for the men from Johannesburg who, after finishing 12th upon their return in 2014, narrowly missed out on last season's play-offs when they came eighth.

In the Lions side, their halfback duo of Elton Jantjies and Faf de Klerk are the players to keep an eye on as they have come to the fore with several superb showings so far.

They have combined brilliantly on attack and their playmaking has led to the downfall of several sides this year. Jantjies' goalkicking has also been impressive. He has kicked 34 successful goals so far this season, the most of any player, with an accuracy of 77%.

Both sides are in Africa Conference Two but there's plent of daylight between them in the standings with the Lions in first place with 22 points while the Kings are languishing at bottom of the table with a meagre four points.

With such a huge disparity between these sides, this looks set to be a one sided affair.

Players to watch: Although the Kings have battled throughout the season some of their players have caught the eye with fine individual performances. One of them is inside centre Shane Gates who has played consistently well during his previous appearances this season. Gates is deceptively quick and an impressive skill-set which makes him a dangerous attacker.

In the Lions line-up, keep an eye on hooker Armand van der Merwe, who makes a rare start after several superb performances as an ipact player off the replacements bench. Van der Merwe does his core duties well but it's as a ball carrier where he poses the biggest threat. He has a low centre of gravity which helps him get over the advantage line with ease and once he builds up a head of steam it's difficult to stop his momentum. 

Team News: Kings head coach Deon Davids has made a number of changes to his starting XV. Schalk Ferreira replaces the injured Sti Sithole at loosehead prop while hooker Martin Ferreira comes in for the injured Edgar Marutlulle. At tighthead, Jacobie Adriaanse regains his spot in the starting line-up, after he recovered from a rib injury, which sees Tom Botha being dropped to the bench. Captain Steven Sykes has been given the nod to play following a mild concussion injury against the Bulls. He will partner Schalk Oelofse in the second row, which means JC Astle drops down to the bench. Flanker Thembelani Bholi also makes his return from a knee injury and replaces Stefan Willemse and partners Chris Cloete and CJ Velleman, who takes over from Aidon Davis at number eight. Speedster Malcolm Jaer has been shifted from the wing to full-back in place of Jurgen Visser, which sees JP du Plessis coming in to wear the number 11 jersey while Shane Gates takes over from Stefan Watermeyer at inside centre with the latter being named amongst the replacements.

Lions head coach Johan Ackermann has made five changes to his run-on side that beat the Stormers last weekend. Malcolm Marx and Julian Redelinghuys have been sidelined due to injuries sustained in that clash. Corne Fourie, Armand van der Merwe and Ruan Dreyer pack down in the front-row, while Cyle Brink joins captain Warren Whiteley and Warwick Tecklenburg in the back-row as Jaco Kriel shifts to the bench. Faf de Klerk replaces Ross Cronje at scrum-half and Howard Mnisi comes in for Rohan Janse van Rensburg at inside centre. Currie Cup hooker Ramone Samuels is set to make his Super Rugby debut if he makes an appearance off the bench with Jacques van Rooyen providing cover for the props.

Form: The Kings' campaign kicked off with a 43-8 home loss against the Sharks and they lost their next two matches – and conceded 50 points in both fixtures – against the Chiefs and Crusaders. They also lost to the Hurricanes in the final match of their New Zealand tour but bounced back upon their return to South Africa and beat the Sunwolves to claim their first victory of the season in Round Six. They followed that up with a home defeat against the Bulls.

The Lions put the Sunwolves to the sword in their opener in Tokyo before claiming a shock victory over the Chiefs in Hamilton in their next fixture. They then lost to the Highlanders in Dunedin but returned to their winning ways against the Cheetahs but then lost at home against the Crusaders in their next match, in Round Six. They then claimed vital victories in derbies against the Sharks in Durban and at home against the Stormers.

Prediction: Although the Kings will have plenty of motivation they won't have enough ammunition for their visitors. Lions to win by 20 points!

The teams:

Kings: 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Luzuko Vulindlu, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Shane Gates, 11 JP du Plessis, 10 Louis Fouche, 9 James Hall, 8 CJ Velleman, 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Steven Sykes (c), 4 Schalk Oelofse, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Martin Ferreira, 1 Schalk Ferreira
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Tom Botha, 18 Justin Ackerman, 19 JC Astle, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Ntando Kebe, 22 Stefan Watermeyer, 23 Leighton Eksteen

Lions: 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Corne Fourie
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 JW Bell, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg

Date: Saturday, April 23
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Kick-off: 17:10 local (15:10 GMT)
Referee: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant Referees: Jaco van Heerden, AJ Jacobs
TMO: Christie du Preez