Reds eye struggling Lions - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Reds eye struggling Lions

Jim Morton 01/04/2011 03:12:16 PM Comments (0)

Queensland Reds have momentum and a top-two Super Rugby spot seemingly at their mercy when they tackle the embattled Lions in Johannesburg on Sunday morning (AEDT).

After five losses from six matches, Lions coach John Mitchell has handed the captaincy to centre Doppies la Grange after relieving Franco van der Merwe of the burden of leadership.

Lock Van der Merwe led the wooden-spooners late in their winless 2010 season and was retained in the role when former All Blacks and Western Force coach Mitchell took over.

Although the 28-year-old stalwart admitted he needed to improve his form, the decision to step down was made in conjunction with Mitchell and team management.

"In doing this I will have the chance to focus on my game, which has not been up to scratch, and this is a decision we took as a team," Van der Merwe said in Johannesburg.

"I will always put the team's best interests ahead of my own."

Van der Merwe backs the in-form La Grange to lead from the front against the Reds who have inflicted 53-3 and 41-8 defeats on the Melbourne Rebels and Cheetahs in the past fortnight.

Another bonus-point win would propel third-placed Queensland ahead of the Crusaders, who have a bye, and could also see them leading the overall standings if the pace-setting Stormers lose to the Sharks in Durban.

The Reds have a near perfect record at Ellis Park - their best away venue in the competition - having won five and drawn once in six visits.

Despite the Lions' troubles, Reds coach Ewen McKenzie is wary of a team which has played a "dynamic" high-possession game to push the defending champion Bulls (twice), Stormers and Cheetahs in bonus-point losses.

Mitchell, though, has signalled he will rein the Lions in by selecting big-kicking former Springboks five-eighth Andre Pretorius ahead of mercurial youngster Elton Jantjies.

"The Reds will be coming to play, and in that sense they're no different to us," he said. "But they are a lot more accurate than us at the moment."

Queensland have grabbed attention with 13 tries in two weeks, but the Reds are just as proud of having conceded just one try.

Among five changes, McKenzie has moved Wallabies winger Digby Ioane into outside centre to maximise counter-attacking opportunities and first-phase line breaks.

"We don't think it will decrease his (Ioane's) involvement," he said.

"In fact, the way the Lions play in defence there's more opportunities for him to get one-on-ones if he takes the ball early."

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