The Lions will tackle defending Super Rugby champions, the Highlanders, in one of two mouth-watering semi-final clashes on Saturday.
New Zealand rivals, the Hurricanes and Chiefs, will battle it out in the earlier semi-final, which starts at 09:35 in the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
Springbok flank Jaco Kriel will lead the Lions on their home turf after regular skipper Warren Whiteley was ruled out with a calf injury. The absence of Whiteley means youngster Ruan Ackermann will now start in the No 8 jersey for the Highveld side.
Whiteley sustained the injury in the quarter-final win over the Crusaders last weekend in Johannesburg and his injury-enforced absence is the only change to the starting fifteen.
Meanwhile, replacement scrumhalf Ross Cronjé has not recovered from his injury niggle and his place on the bench is taken by Dillon Smit.
Hurricanes captain Dane Coles will be given until match day to prove his fitness for the other last four encounter against the Chiefs. Coles is battling with a rib injury.
The All Black hooker is bracketed with Ricky Riccitelli in an otherwise unchanged Hurricanes team that defeated the Sharks in last weekend’s quarter-final. Leni Apisai will come into the squad on the reserves bench if Coles does not recover in time from his rib injury he sustained against the Durban side.
The Lions have won eight of their last 10 home matches, while the Highlanders have succeeded in their last three away matches. A thrilling match is expected in Johannesburg.
Emirates Lions v Highlanders
Date: Saturday, 30 July
Venue: Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Ben O´Keeffe (New Zealand), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
• Springbok flank Jaco Kriel will captain the side in place of the injured No 8 Warren Whiteley, who is suffering from a calf strain. Ruan Ackermann comes into the side as No 8.
• On the bench Dillon Smit replaces the injured Ross Cronjé as replacement scrumhalf
• James Lentjes will start at openside flank for the Highlanders, replacing Shane Christie.
• Lock Alex Ainley comes into the side to replace Luke Whitelock, who moves to No 8.
• Hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate, South African-born prop Ross Geldenhuys and lock Joe Wheeler come on to the bench, along with utility back Marty Banks, who makes his return from injury.
• The winner has alternated in the last eight meetings between these sides, with the Highlanders winning the last encounter by 34-15 in Dunedin earlier this year.
• The Emirates Lions have won eight of their 10 home games this season, however, both of their home defeats have come at the hands of teams from New Zealand.
• The Highlanders have won their last three away games, only once before have they won four on the trot (2005). They have won five of their last seven games against South African opposition, scoring 34+ points in each of their wins.
• The Emirates Lions have scored 26 tries after winning possession from a lineout, the most of any of the four remaining teams and second only behind the Brumbies (28) overall.
• Waiseke Naholo has scored 11 tries in his last 10 games, and has scored three tries in four games against South African opposition in his Vodacom Super Rugby career.
• Malakai Fekitoa has made a competition high 31 offloads this season, the only team to prevent him from getting the ball away in the tackle in a game this season are the Brumbies (twice).
• Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe and Courtnall Skosan have all scored nine tries each for the Emirates Lions this season, the Chiefs are the only other side with more than one player to score that many tries (McKenzie and Tamanivalu).
• The Highvelders have been the top attacking side in the competition this year, averaging more points, tries, defenders beaten and metres per game of any team.
• The Highlanders meanwhile have been the busiest side in defence, averaging the most tackles (125) of any team in 2016 yet conceding the fewest points and tries.
Emirates Lions: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylon Smith. Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Steph de Witt, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Jaco van der Walt.
Highlanders:15 Ben Smith (captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Matt Faddes, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown. Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Dan Pryor, 22 Te Aihe Toma, 23 Marty Banks.
Prediction: Lions by 6
Hurricanes vs Chiefs
Date: Saturday, July 30
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 09:35 SA time
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
• Hurricanes captain Dane Coles will be given until match day to prove his fitness for Saturday’s semi-final against the Chiefs at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.
The All Black hooker is bracketed with Ricky Riccitelli in an otherwise unchanged Hurricanes team that defeated the Sharks in last weekend’s quarter-final.
• Leni Apisai will come into the squad on the reserves bench if Coles does not recover in time from his rib injury he sustained against the Durban side.
• Tawera Kerr-Barlow will start at scrumhalf for the Chiefs against the Hurricanes in Saturday’s semi-final in Wellington.
• In other changes to the backline, Anton Lienert-Brown moves to inside centre, with Seta Tamanivalu returning from injury to start at No 13.
• The forward pack is the same that started against the DHL Stormers in Cape Town last weekend.
• The Hurricanes have won nine of their last 11 games against the Chiefs on home turf, though they lost their last such encounter by one point in Round 9 earlier this season.
• The Hurricanes have lost all six of their playoff games against fellow New Zealand teams in Vodacom Super Rugby, including a 14-10 defeat to the Chiefs in 2009.
• The Chiefs have previously contested four semi-finals in Super Rugby history, winning each of the last three.
• Each of the Chiefs’ last four away games in New Zealand have been won by the team trailing at half-time.
• The Hurricanes have scored more than twice as many points as they’ve conceded in their last six Super Rugby games (197-88), of which they have won all of them.
• Aaron Cruden has 15 try assists this season, more than any other player in the competition; however the last of these came back in May.
• The Hurricanes have a points difference of +99 in the final 20 minutes of their games this season, the best figure of any team. o55% (36/66) of the Hurricanes’ tries this season have come from first phase possession, the highest rate in the competition.
• Beauden Barrett (193) and Damian McKenzie (190) are both within reach of becoming the first and second players this season to score 200 points.
• Ardie Savea made 11 tackles in the opening weekend of the finals to take his season tally to 176, second only behind the Chiefs’ Sam Can (180).
Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Jason Woodward, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields 5, Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles (captain)/Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Loni Uhila. Replacements: Ricky Riccitelli/Leni Apisai, Chris Eves, Mike Kainga, Mark Abbott, Callum Gibbins, Jamison Gibson-Park, Vince Aso, Julian Savea.
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Sam McNicol, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Sam Cane (captain), 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames. Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Mitchell Graham, 19 Lachlan Boshier, 20 Michael Leitch, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Toni Pulu, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
Prediction: Hurricanes by 5