The Lions have never won Super Rugby but they have been knocking on the door in recent seasons and will be hopeful of recording their third final appearance in a row this year. First, they will have to get past a spirited Waratahs side that upset the odds in their quarter-final, defeating the Highlanders to reach the last four for the first time since 2015.
Lions versus Waratahs Semi-Final Prediction and Preview
Head to Head Record
These two sides first met in March 1998, during the third edition of the tournament, which at that time was known as Super 12. The Lions also went under a different name, playing as the Golden Cats until 2006, but it was the Waratahs who won that game, 25-10 in Sydney.
In all, the Lions and the Waratahs have played 18 times, and the Australian side have dominated the head-to-head with 14 wins. But the last of those wins came in 2014, the year in which the Waratahs went on to win Super Rugby for the first time.
Since that victory, this fixture has turned around completely. The Lions have won the last three meetings by an average margin of 17.67 points. Their latest encounter came in April, and a dominant Lions performance saw them win 29-0 at the Allianz Stadium, Sydney.
Past 10 meetings:
April 2018: Lions won 29-0 at Allianz Stadium, Sydney
March 2017: Lions won 55-36 at Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
May 2015: Lions won 27-22 at Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
May 2014: Waratahs won 41-13 at Allianz Stadium, Sydney
May 2011: Waratahs won 29-12 at Sydney Football Stadium
March 2010: Waratahs won 73-12 at Sydney Football Stadium
May 2009: Waratahs won 38-33 at Coca-Cola Park, Johannesburg
April 2008: Waratahs won 26-3 at Sydney Football Stadium
February 2007: Waratahs won 25-16 at Ellis Park, Johannesburg
March 2006: Waratahs won 50-3 at Sydney Football Stadium
The Lions were once again the dominant side in the South African Conference, and they finished the regular season strongly, winning three games out of four. They backed up that performance in their quarter-final against a battling Jaguares side, thanks largely to superb displays by Malcolm Marx and Elton Jantjies, seeing off a determined rally by the Argentines to record a solid 40-23 victory.
Their opponents ran away with the Australian Conference Waratahs, though they conceded over 25 points in four of their last five regular season games and were second favourites against the Highlanders in their quarter final. But they showed great character and skill in fighting back from a 23-6 deficit, helped by Waisake Naholo’s sin bin punishment and recorded three second-half tries to win the game 30-23.
The Lions have been hit by a string of injury problems this season but Swys de Bruin has a healthy squad to pick from for this game, including influential captain Warren Whiteley. Flanker Cyle Brink sustained an arm injury in the game against the Jaguares, but should be fit for this game, as will Malcolm Marx, who appeared to be injured in the quarter-final.
The Waratahs are without captain Michael Hooper who is out with a hamstring strain, but hooker Tolu Latu, who has played three times for the Wallabies this summer, may be in line for his first Super Rugby start of the season. He impressed in the second half of the quarter final against the Highlanders and his scrimmaging power will be vital against the Lions.
Home advantage counts for a great deal in the knock-out stages of Super Rugby, and the Lions are likely to have an additional advantage over their Australian opponents, who barely had time to enjoy their quarter-final win before catching a flight to South Africa.
The Waratahs shouldn’t be underestimated. They have a back-line packed with international experience, led by Kurtley Beale, and they showed great resilience in battling back to beat the Highlanders, even if they were helped by Naholo’s sin-bin punishment.
But although we can expect the likes of Beale and Nick Phipps, to rise to the occasion, the visitors will struggle to impose their style on the Lions. In a game that is likely to be decided at the breakdown, the absence of Hooper could be crucial, and Marx in particular could be a potent force in that area. The ‘Tahs have done well to reach their first semi-final in three years, but this could be a game too far and their tendency to concede points – an average of 32 in their last six games – could cost them. A big Lions victory looks the best bet.
Back Lions to win both halves at 11/8
Back Lions -9 at 10/11
Please note betting odds quoted are correct at time of publication and are subject to change. View the latest super rugby betting odds