Johannesburg - Like a good thriller, the intrigue between the Emirates Lions and Vodacom Bulls has been building towards a finale that will be anti-climactic for some, and revelatory for others.
Of course, the sequel to whatever happens today at Emirates Airline Park (kick-off 3pm) in the first of their United Rugby Championship (URC) encounters has already been greenlit for release a week later, but the clash between the Jukskei rivals this weekend will put down a marker for the return fixture at Loftus.
There are many sub-plots to the larger narrative, but perhaps the most captivating of tales will be written in the loose-forward battle where the Lions’ Jaco Kriel, Emmanuel Tshituka and Francke Horn face off against the Bulls' Marcell Coetzee, Arno Botha and Elrigh Louw.
As pointed out by Lions skipper Burger Odendaal yesterday, up front is where this game will in all likelihood be won or lost.
“It is all going to start up front. Whatever pack gets momentum, gets their team on the front foot; it is easier to attack if you are going forward. For us, it is going to start at the set-piece battle and then not trying to make it about the individual by sticking to the system.”
Jake White’s Bulls have found themselves thin at prop after an injury to Mornay Smith last weekend and the departure of Trevor Nyakane. It sees Jacques van Rooyen, who is more comfortable at loose-head, start this weekend in the No 3 jersey against Sti Sithole.
White pointed out that the Lions will not have it all their own way after losing key players – hooker Jaco Visagie and Pieter Jansen van Vuren – in their tight five.
“Jaco is out, their lock is out and their loose-forward is out,” White explained, “so, you would think that it would take a while to get some cohesion there as well.
“Scrums,” the coach continued, are always important but I am not highlighting that as an area that we are going to win or lose the game. They’ve got line-out changes as well, and a new hooker throwing in, so maybe they are not going to give us line-outs.”
The Lions’ Ivan van Rooyen then tackled his first eight’s difficulties, specifically Van Vuren’s injury that will see the lock out for the rest of the season. Van Rooyen has had to call up Springbok Willem Alberts, while reshuffling his loosies. Ruhan Straeuli has been moved to the bench as he is the team’s secondary caller in the line-outs.
“(Van Vuren) is our main line-out caller” van Rooyen explained, “and also losing Reinhard Nothnagel, so that is our two main No 5 locks currently out.
“Ruben (Schoeman) did call in the Currie Cup and he did call in one or two URC games (last year). This is the situation that we are in and it forces us to be a little bit more creative in the line-outs.”
EMIRATES LIONS STARTING XV:
15 EW Viljoen, 14 Edwill van der Merwe, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Burger Odendaal (capt), 11 Sibahle Maxwane, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Emmanuel Tshituka, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Willem Alberts, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 PJ Botha, 1 Sti Sithole;
Replacements: 16 Morne Brandon, 17 Morgan Naude, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Ruan Venter, 20 Ruhan Straeuli, 21 Sibusiso Sangweni, 22 Morne van den Berg, 23 Tiaan Swanepoel
BULLS STARTING XV:
15 Kurt-lee Arendse, 14 Canan Moodie, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Madosh Tambwe, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Elrigh Louw, 7 Arno Botha, 6 Marcell Coetzee (capt), 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Walt Steenkamp, 3 Jacques van Rooyen, 2 Johan Grobbelaar, 1 Simphiwe Matanzima;
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Lizo Gqoboka, 18 Robert Hunt, 19 Janko Swanepoel, 20 Muller Uys, 21 Zak Burger, 22 Chris Smith, 23 Dan Kriel