Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph has acknowledged the threat the Lions pose against his side ahead of their semi-final clash at Ellis Park this weekend, claiming they are a team that have improved as the competition has progressed and play an all-round style of rugby.

Speaking from Johannesburg, Joseph said the South African outfit had been a consistently solid side and would challenge his defending champion team in the franchise's second playoff match of the season.

"They've been a consistently good team," Joseph said.

"We had a good game against the Lions, but since they've been back in South Africa, they've just gone from strength to strength.


"Unlike a lot of the South African teams, they play a running game of football, they can maul, they can scrum, so they've got a total game, and I guess that's one of the big reasons why they are still here at this stage of the competition.

"The challenge is in front of us, we're really looking forward to it."

50-test halfback Aaron Smith added to his coaches claims that the Lions were an outfit not to be taken lightly.

"They're very similar to New Zealand teams, but then they also have the traits of a normal South African team," Smith said.

"One thing you have to respect about the Lions is that they play their way of footy for the full 80. I've seen a lot of footage of them just quick-tapping in the 75th minute, they don't stop until the whistle goes.

"We've got to prepare really well this week, we've got to go out there and do the job.

Unfortunately for the Highlanders, they have to "do the job" this weekend without one of their key players, following the news that one-test Tongan prop Siua Halanukonuka has succumbed to a season-ending ankle injury.

"He's been a great find for us at the Highlanders," Joseph said.

"He can play both sides of the scrum, and he's been a big part for us. We've got him again next year, so I think he's going to play a big part in the Highlanders future."

The loss of Halanukonuka has been countered by the positive news that fan favourite Marty Banks has returned to the squad after a prolonged stint on the sidelines with injury, and will replace promising, young first-five Fletcher Smith in the squad.

"He's a very good player, he's a big game player, it's nice to have him back," the head coach said.

Along with the Italy-bound Banks, loose forward James Lentjies, hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate, and lock Joe Wheeler have travelled to Johannesburg to join the squad, while Otago prop Craig Millar has been called in to replace the injured Halanukonuka.