JOHANNESBURG – Lions boss Swys de Bruin doesn’t normally single out players for special attention, but he did just that yesterday, naming some of the Waratahs’ backline players who he believes hold the biggest threat to his team winning their Super Rugby semi-final tomorrow.
And it was no surprise De Bruin highlighted the trio of Wallabies in the Waratahs back division who could hold the key to the outcome of the semi-final: fullback Israel Folau, centre Kurtley Beale and flyhalf Bernard Foley.
“The Waratahs have got good depth in their system (with hooker Tolu Latu coming in), but apart from their good pack ... Kurtley (Beale), (Bernard) Foley and (Israel) Folau, we got to watch them. If they get a good platform, get go-forward ball, those are the threats if you ask me,” said De Bruin about exactly where the danger lay for his team at Ellis Park tomorrow.
All three men have been in imperious form for the Waratahs and in wing Taqele Naiyaravoro the visitors also have the joint-leading try scorer in the competition in their ranks.
Folau though, the experienced fullback, appears to be the key figure.
“We’re very aware of their threats and Folau is a wonderful player; 110kg and he’s a tall guy, brilliant in the air, a good runner ... the whole trick will be to make sure we don’t give him space ... if we do, we’re going to have to defend.”
Scrumhalf Ross Cronje, who will be required to do some kicking from the base tomorrow, said he had a big role to play in the match.
“If I kick it must be on point,” he said. “Also, we’re going to have to get our competitors in the air (to challenge the likes of Folau) ... a good kick with no chase is technically a bad kick, so I’m going to have to do it properly.”
Both the Lions and Waratahs have scored plenty of tries this season - the Lions 77 in the round-robin stages, the Waratahs 74 - and with the game kicking off at 3pm in dry, highveld air, De Bruin is expecting a fast-paced, high-scoring affair ... and “definitely a very different game to the last one” when the Lions won 29-0 in Sydney in April.
“Everything went for us that day, including the bounce of the ball. Nothing went for them,” said De Bruin. “You get those games, but this weekend will be different. What happened in April is a long time ago, and they’ve been a team on the up since then. They’ve also shown they know how to score tries.
“But we’re at home, and the guys enjoy the 3pm game ... the air is thinner and the players are used to that time; we train at that time of the day so the guys know where the sun is.”
Cronje, who didn’t play in the 29-0 whitewash because of injury, said he, too, was expecting a different challenge this weekend.
“The Waratahs have been playing some great footie in their last couple of games ... I think they’re starting to peak actually, getting back to the kind of form that took them to a Super Rugby title a few years ago (2014). There’ll be no complacency from us; it’s going to be a seriously tough game.”
The scrumhalf added there was plenty of excitement in the belly ahead of the game. “There is no better feeling than running out, and playing here, at a packed Ellis Park. There’s nothing like it. There is no stadium where you can play running rugby, can chuck the ball around and have fun with your mates than here.
“Getting to this third home semi-final doesn’t make it easier ... it’s definitely tougher, but there’s a lot of excitement, too.”
The only change to the Lions team that beat the Jaguares in the quarter-finals last weekend is in the back row where Lourens Erasmus replaces the unfit Cyle Brink, who has failed to recover from a shoulder knock.
“There’s not much in it,” said De Bruin about picking a lock at flank for the match. “Franco (Mostert) has done so well at lock and he and Lourens will swap roles at times anyway,” he added, explaining why didn’t select Mostert at blindside, a position the Bok has played in before this season. “It’s a huge blow losing Cyle, but bringing Lourens in is a tactical decision ... and he’s got lots of pace.”
With Erasmus moving into the starting XV, Hacjivah Dayimani gets a spot on the bench. The Waratahs’ only change from a week ago is at hooker where Latu starts ahead of Damien Fitzpatrick.