Bulls v Lions: 5 head-to-head battles that have us salivating for days
JOHANNESBURG - Warning: Major, awe-inspiring match-ups ahead ...
The Bulls and Lions face each other this weekend for the first time in a semi-final since 2005. The Bulls finished the regular season top of the pops, while the Lions were arguably the best team in the Carling Currie Cup.
Here we look at five head-to-head matchups that could offer pulse-setting entertainment when the match kicks off at 2pm on Saturday.
Stedman Gans v Wandisile Simelane
The introduction of former Bok Sevens players into the Bulls fold has done wonders for the Pretoria-based side, and Gans has been one of those individuals that has given Jake White's team the impetus to attack the gainline with speed and a healthy dose of scary talent. Gans' 44 Sevens appearances has bled through into the team's approach in the backline, and was most evident in his SuperRugby Unlocked appearance against the Lions last year, In that match he scored an audacious intercept try that crushed the Joburger resistance.
He will need to pull out all the stops on Saturday as he faces down the undisputed talent of Wandisile Simelane. The young Lions outside-centre has made a case for a national team look-in, and another good performance is required for him to build towards his sure destiny as a Bok. When he is on the front-foot he can dance around any opposition, much like Gans, and if he is given space he can make his opposition pay with his fleet-foot assurdedy, menacing runs and eye for an offload and a gap.
Morne Steyn v Elton Jantjies
When it comes to match-ups, it would be hard to find one more prestigious than the Battle of the 10s that is shaping up for Saturday's encounter.
Both Steyn and Jantjies would make the honour roll of any team, such are their individual achievements. Let's start with Steyn - the 36-year-old has played 67 Test for the Springboks, compiling 736 points in the process. He was the fastest Bok player to 100, 200, 300, 400, 500, 600 and 700 points, has won three SuperRugby titles, two Currie Cup championships, a Top 14 title with Stade Francais, one Tri-Nations crown, and was arguably the reason South Africa claimed a series victory over the British and Irish Lions in 2009.
Impressive stuff - which overshadows Jantjies ever so slightly.
The Lions talisman in response has played 37 Tests, including a handful that made him a World Cup gold medalist in 2019, and was also part of the Bok team that won that year's Rugby Championship. He has won two Currie Cup championships, and was instrumental in making the Lions the best South African side in SuperRugby for three years running from 2016 onwards. He was rightly voted South Africa's SuperRugby Player of the Decade after playing 140 matches and racking up 1145 points in that tournament between 2010 and 2020.
In recent weeks Jantjies has moved away from taking potshots at goal - that duty has fallen to Tiaan Schoeman - but that has resulted in him concentrating on his own game and the captaincy - which has seen a vast improvement this season. When he is on song there is no South African that can distribute the ball like he does, and he is unafraid to take on the gainline, or put his body in harm's way. Equally, Steyn is what keeps the Bulls ticking over with his prodigious kicking boot and territorial play. They are perhaps not the best tacklers in their respective sides, but with the beef of Cornal Hendricks and Burger Odendaal on their outside, they probably don't have to be.
Stifling their play will go a long way for their respective sides to claim victory and book a final berth.
Marco van Staden v Jaco Kriel
Such has been Van Staden's performances this season, that many are once again talking up the 25-year-old as a possible Springbok in the coming months. A month back, Bulls coach White declared the flanker his most consistent player. Big with ball in hand, massive on defence and a menace at the breakdown, Van Staden has the ability to make it a misery for any side that he faces, and alongside 2019 World Cup winner and Bulls captain Duane Vermeulen and Elrigh Louw, makes up a formidable loose-trio that can easily dominate all and sundry.
Nevertheless, the Lions have their own weapon at the side of the scrum in union legend Kriel.
Now back from Europe, the 11-time capped Springbok has yet to reach his full potential this season as a number of set-backs have stifled his momentum. We are yet to see a classic Jaco Kriel display - one that harasses the opposition at the contact areas and marauds down the side-line with ball in hand. There have been glimpses of it, for sure, and if he finds even a modicum of that form on Saturday, it might just be a red tide that drown out the Bulls' aspirations. He remains the veteran amongst the Lions loosies, and a positive performance from him could also galvanise the exciting duo of Len Massyn and Vincent Tshituka into action.
Ruan Nortje v Marvin Orie
Orie has arguably been the Lions best player this season - he has been belligerent and irrepressible in his performances, so when he has had a bad day at the office - as was the case two weeks ago against the Bulls - it is more than noticeable. Even so, you would be a fool not to back the 25 year-old lock this weekend. His line-out work will be crucial if the Lions are to beat the Bulls, while his physicality in the dark areas of the game will be equally important. Orie was the best defender in SuperRugby Unlocked, putting in a mountain of work in that department, and along with veteran Willem Alberts must drive back any probing question of the Pretoria-based side.
In comparison, the Bulls' lock combination are rookies. Sintu Manjezi is the elder of the two at 25-year-old, but it is Nortje who will have the added responsibility of making the calls at line-out time. The 22-year-old is a former Baby Bok and can look forward to a national call-up in the future. He was SuperRugby Unlocked's leading line-out jumper, and has been rock solid for the Bulls up-front. Even so, it might be the one department that the Lions have the advantage in, and could possibly exploit, and both Manjenzi and Nortje can expect a close examination this weekend.
Trevor Nyakane v Sti Sithole
Now for the big boys.
Nyakane is one of the best scrummagers in the world, and the rugby-loving public love nothing more than to see the 42 Test capped Bok pack down at that set-piece and scrum the opposition to smithereens. The scrum will once again be the focus of the match, and whoever gets the upperhand in the set-piece will ensure that the momentum and the match swing their way, and there is perhaps no better vector of excellence in that department than Nyakane. He completes a beefy frontrow that also includes Lizo Gqoboka and Schalk Erasmus.
Packing down opposite to him, however, is Sti Sithole who has had a solid season for the Lions, and on his day, with the right combinations next to and behind him, can outscrum any opposition. The 27-year-old Sithole is pushing hard for a Bok call-up and who better to show the national selectors your chops than by outmaneuvering the more illustrious Nyakane. The Lions front trio is no unit to wag a finger at though, and with Jaco Visage - one of the unsung players of the Joburgers this season - and veteran Jannie du Plessis packing down next to him, fans can expect a titanic struggle up-front.