JOHANNESBURG – If the Lions are to put last week’s howler against the Reds behind them and beat the Hurricanes in Wellington tomorrow, flyhalf Elton Jantjies is going to have to deliver a knock-out performance.
While many South Africans - including new national coach Rassie Erasmus - will be very interested in the clash between two other No 10s in Cape Town later in the day when Damian Willemse and Handre Pollard go head to head, Jantjies has a chance to impress, too, when he goes up against Hurricanes star Beauden Barrett.
It’s a bonanza of a day for Erasmus who’ll get to see all four of his Bok flyhalf options against opposition that matters; with the Sharks’ Rob du Preez - an outsider for the Bok No 10 role in June - facing the Highlanders’ sharp-shooter Lima Sopoaga in Durban, also tomorrow.
The Lions will need Jantjies to fire if Swys de Bruin and his charges are to halt the runaway Hurricanes and put last weekend’s shock 27-22 defeat by the Reds well and truly behind them.
The Canes haven’t lost since their opening game of the competition - against the Bulls at Loftus - and will be seeking an eighth straight win against the team they comfortably beat at the Westpac Stadium almost two years ago to bag their first Super Rugby title.
On that day, the wind blew, the rain fell and the temperature dropped to below freezing and the Lions didn’t have chance in their first final appearance. They were undone by the poor weather conditions and everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
They were error-ridden and Jantjies made several blunders, one of which led to a Hurricanes try, and his goal-kicking was also not up to standard. But we’re almost two years on from that match and the Lions, and Jantjies, get a chance to make up for the mistakes of that day.
First of all, they’ll hope to wake up to better weather and then start the match better than they did a week ago in Brisbane, when they fell behind early and kept conceding points. De Bruin will stress the importance of getting into the game from the start and not only in the second half, as they did a week ago, when they scored four tries on their way to 22 unanswered points.
The Lions will need to get their set-pieces right, too and they’re also going to have to show greater intensity at the breakdowns. And then it’ll be up to Jantjies and Co to ensure the Lions play in the right areas of the field and make the most of the possession that comes their way.
New No 9 Nic Groom will be a bundle of nerves in his first Lions start, but he’s going to have to bring all his years’ experience to the contest and help Jantjies and fullback Andries Coetzee kick the Lions into Hurricanes territory. The decisions the trio make will determine whether the Lions fly or fall.
In an effort to bring some renewed energy to the side, De Bruin has made several changes to the team. Besides Groom coming in at nine, Lionel Mapoe is back at outside centre and fit-again Aphiwe Dyantyi is also back on the wing.
Up front, Marnus Schoeman gets a first start at flank, meaning Kwagga Smith moves to No 8, with Cyle Brink returning at blindside.
Stand-in skipper Franco Mostert moves back to lock to partner Lourens Erasmus while in the front row props Jacobie Adriaanse and Dylan Smith replace Ruan Dreyer and Jacques van Rooyen.
The Lions team is:
Starting XV: Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Elton Jantjies, Nic Groom, Kwagga Smith, Cyle Brink, Marnus Schoeman, Franco Mostert, Lourens Erasmus, Jacobie Adriaanse, Malcolm Marx, Dylan Smith;
Replacements: Robbie Coetzee, Ruan Dreyer, Johannes Jonker, Marvin Orie, Hacjivah Dayimani, Ashlon Davids, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Sylvian Mahuza