Expect a settled pride of Lions in Bulls territory
Third times the charm - or at least the Lions will be hoping so when they face the Bulls on Saturday (kick-off 2pm) in the first semi-final of the Carling Currie Cup.
The Joburgers have been unable to put one over their northern neighbours this season, narrowly losing both previous encounters 22-15 and 30-25. Despite those set-backs, the Lions start the week with fortuitous news - all squad members are fit for the clash at Loftus Versveld.
Here, we look at the possible composition of the matchday 23 - barring any unforeseen injuries - that will face Jake White's team.
There are a few key areas that Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen will have to make some tough decisions, and his props will be one of them. The hooker spot is seemingly locked down by Jaco Visagie, so he will need to decide if he remains true to Jannie du Plessis and Dylan Smith, who packed down the last time the team played, also against the Bulls. His decision will be informed by how well Sti Sithole and Carlu Sadie perform in training this week - both were stellar in the early parts of the season, and it is not outside the bounds of possibility that at least one of them starts, in most likelihood Sadie.
The locks are a settled pair, with Marvin Orie reaching peak form, while Willem Alberts has added some much needed grunt by living up to his moniker of the “Bone Collector”, in his performances as the enforcer of the pack. Jaco Kriel was rested on their last outing, and you'd expect that the Springbok flank will return to the side this weekend alongside Len Massyn and Vincent Tshituka, with Marnus Schoeman dropping out of the team completely.
The Half-back Pairing
Van Rooyen is blessed with a trio of excellent scrumhalves. Andre Warner has been the preferred pick in the No 9 jumper lately, and there is no reason for that to change now.
The main question is who will be his cover? Springbok Ross Cronje is a veteran, and has the BMT to take command and bring much needed calmness to the proceedings late in the game. Youngster Morne van den Berg is a livewire and an exciting prospect that can change the momentum of a game with his speed at the breakdown, but his youthful exuberance will probably count against him. If captain Elton Jantjies is injured during the encounter, Cronje has the tools and know-how to slot in at 10 under pressure, and that probably tips the selection debate in his favour.
The out-backs have been consistent in their selection - especially wings Stean Pienaar and Courtnall Skosan - while Tiaan Swanepoel has cut out a niche for himself at full-back.
The main selection conundrum that presents itself to Van Rooyen this week is at centre: Does he play the power of a Burger Odendaal and Dan Kriel midfield, or will he infuse a degree of unpredictability and X-factor by injecting Wandeisle Simelane into the mix? Odendaal and Kriel started in the last encounter against the Bulls and were largely ineffective, along with the rest of the backline, in breaking down a staunch Bulls defence. Simelane added something a bit different when he appeared off the bench, and the coach should give him another opportunity in the starting XV alongside Kriel come Saturday.
The Bulls will once again rely on their physicality to subdue their opposition - it has become a key weapon for them this season, despite a few wobbles in the scrum, and at the line-outs. Van Rooyen has shown this season that he is unafraid to play the opposing team in front of him, relaying on tactics, rather than only the running game the Lions have become famous for. In their encounter last week Wednesday, the coach opted for a 6-2 split on the bench, and with everything to play for, and a final spot on the line, you'd expect him to return to that formula when he announces his team on Thursday.
Possible Lions Starting XV: Tiaan Swanepoel, Stean Pienaar, Wandisile Simelane, Dan Kriel, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies (capt), Andre Warner, Len Massyn, Vincent Tshituka, Jaco Kriel, Marvin Orie, Willem Alberts, Carlu Sadie, Jaco Kriel, Dylan Smith