Super Rugby / 15 June 2019, 3:00pm / Jacques vd Westhuyzen
It is perhaps fitting that the final round-robin game of this year’s Super Rugby competition is between the Bulls and Lions because they have been South Africa’s best two sides and should produce a thriller at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria this afternoon.
While Argentina’s Jaguares wrapped up the South African Conference title last weekend and will deservedly host a quarter-final clash next week, the Bulls and Lions have produced the best rugby of the local sides and with plenty riding on today’s clash they are likely to again dish up something special.
Irrespective of the other results today, the Bulls will qualify inside the top eight, but they’ll want to stay as high up on the points table as they can to avoid a trip to Christchurch or Buenos Aires next week, so a win will be foremost on their minds.
The Lions, though, will almost certainly have to win to stay in the competition as one of the Stormers or Sharks, who play at 3pm in Cape Town, will pass them on the points table before they kick off at Loftus at 5.15pm.
It’s all set up then to be a hugely entertaining game. The fact the Bulls whipped the Lions 30-12 the last time they met - at Ellis Park in round three - simply adds extra spice to the occasion.
The Lions, despite saying all week they don’t think about past matches, will know very well what happened on that day and they’ll want to make up for the loss, at the Bulls’ home ground.
Swys de Bruin’s men will also be buoyed by the news yesterday that stand-in captain and hooker Malcolm Marx has committed his future to the Lions until the end of 2021. He will, however, take six months off at the start of next year to play club rugby in Japan, ruling him out of the 2020 Super Rugby campaign, but the fact is Marx is still a Lions player for the next two years.
He has joined the likes of Andries Coetzee, Aphiwe Dyantyi and a host of promising juniors to pledge their futures to the Lions.
Several of these men will be in action today. Tyrone Green, Shaun Reynolds, Hacjivah Dayimani, Vincent Tshituka, Cyle Brink, Rhyno Herbst, Marvin Orie, Carlu Sadie and Dylan Smith will all want to make a big statement in a big game, while bench-sitters like Jan-Henning Campher, Nathan McBeth, Johannes Jonker, Reinhard Nothnagel and Wandisile Simelane will hope to have a big impact, too, as they seek to prove their readiness to perhaps be starters next year.
In the Bulls, the Lions will find a team more than willing to get stuck in at the breakdowns, in the mauls, and in the set pieces, while out wide they’ve got men with X-factor and match-winning potential. Inside centre Burger Odendaal will relish going up against Elton Jantjies in the number 12 channel, while the Lions will have to keep an eye on Rosko Specman, Cornal Hendricks and Warrick Gelant - all dangerous players with ball in hand.
The Lions will miss a key man in Kwagga Smith, but the Bulls are without Schalk Brits and several other first choice stars, but there’s again an opportunity for someone else to stand up and grab their chance.
There’s a lot to look forward to and be excited about... it’s now up to the players to deliver the goods.
The Bulls: Warrick Gelant, Cornal Hendricks, Johnny Kotze, Burger Odendaal, Rosko Specman, Handre Pollard, Andre Warner, Duane Vermeulen, Hanro Liebenberg, Marco van Staden, RG Snyman, Jannes Kirsten, Trevor Nyakane, Jaco Visagie, Lizo Gqoboka
Replacements: Johann Grobbelaar, Simphiwe Matanzima, Wiehahn Herbst, Eli Snyman, Ruan Steenkamp, Ivan van Zyl, Manie Libbok, Divan Rossouw
The Lions: Andries Coetzee, Tyrone Green, Lionel Mapoe, Elton Jantjies, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Shaun Reynolds, Ross Cronje, Hacjivah Dayimani, Vincent Tshituka, Cyle Brink, Marvin Orie, Rhyno Herbst, Carlu Sadie, Malcolm Marx, Dylan Smith