‘Lucky’ Highlanders ready for Lions den

The Highlanders concede luck helped them beat the Brumbies in the first round of the Super Rugby finals but reckon they’ll need more than that to overcome the Lions.

The defending champions arrived in Johannesburg on Monday talking up the quality of South Africa’s best team, who they say will provide a sizeable challenge in the semi-finals in on Sunday (AEST).

Coach Jamie Joseph has scrutinised the 15-9 win over the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday and described it as one of their worst performances of the season.

While wintry weather and a committed Brumbies performance were mitigating factors, Joseph marked the performance six out of 10 and says the players have owned up to shortcomings.

The fuming Brumbies were denied victory when an apparent late try to Lausii Taliauli was disallowed by match officials.

“That was a wake-up call for our team. We obviously didn’t play to our potential, which was very disappointing,” Joseph said.

“We were fortunate, in many ways we scrambled and got through.

“The boys are pretty keen to rectify that and play our style of footy against a very good Lions team.”

Joseph has added utility back Marty Banks and forwards James Lentjes, Joe Wheeler, Greg Pleasants-Tate and Craig Millar to his tour squad.

Prop Millar is a replacement for tighthead Siua Halanukonuka, who tore ankle ligaments in Canberra and will also miss the final if the Highlanders qualify.

Joseph appreciated a gap of nearly nine days between games, removing some of the fatigue factor brought on by travel.

His team have played successive games in Port Elizabeth, Buenos Aires, Dunedin and Canberra since the competition resumed in July.

In contrast, the Lions have played their past 13 games in South Africa, including nine in Johannesburg.

Their past offshore game was the 34-15 loss to the Highlanders in round three.

Joseph says the quality of the Lions is of more concern than the respective build-ups.

“Travel’s travel. I think the guys are OK,” he said.

“Since they’ve been back in South Africa, the Lions have just gone from strength to strength.

“Unlike the other South African teams, they play a running game of football.

“They can maul, they can scrum, so they’ve got a total game which is one of the big reasons why they’re still here.”

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