JOHANNESBURG – The Lions will be chasing their 21st straight Super Rugby win against South African opposition, going back four years, when they clash with the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday.
Here rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen lists the five key areas the Lions have to dominate if they’re to keep that remarkable run going.
Swys de Bruin’s men have been pretty solid at scrum time this season, but if there was ever a time when they wanted to be spot-on it would be against the Stormers. The highly-rated props Wilco Louw and Steven Kitshoff are set to be part of the Springbok set-up in the coming weeks at the expense of undervalued Lions props Ruan Dreyer, Jacques van Rooyen and Dylan Smith.
And let’s not forget the veteran former Lions man JC Janse van Rensburg, who may even start on Saturday. The Stormers have the edge statistically, having won 92% of their scrums this season, to the Lions’ 90%, so a big job awaits the visitors. Bragging rights are, of course, at stake, too.
It is the visitors who have the edge in the lineouts, and that’s with them missing key hooker Malcolm Marx and the fact the throw-ins haven’t been near perfect over the course of the season. But the Lions have still managed to bag 90% of their throw-ins, to the Stormers’ 84.5%, which has left them down in ninth position.
It is a key area to launch attacks from, and also the go-to play to set up the maul and drive, something the Lions have done excellently this season. They have scored the most tries of all the teams in this fashion and will hope to continue in this vein at Newlands. The key man is the thrower of the ball and right now that makes Robbie Coetzee a very important member of the lineout.
It seems fairly obvious that five-pointers are key in any rugby match, but if the Lions are to extend their unbeaten record against SA teams, all they have to do is continue their scoring feats up to now. De Bruin’s men have been by far the most try-hungry team in the competition with 64 touchdowns - 22 more than the next best local side, the Bulls. The Stormers have only scored 39 tries.
So, if the Lions can strike as regularly on Saturday as they’ve done all season, they should come out on top. They have, after all, scored on average 4.9 tries per game, and any team that’s scoring close on five tries each time they play should come out on top. The Stormers are only scoring three tries per game on average.
Lions fans will hope that Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe are back this week because an almighty battle awaits in the centres and they are the two men to take on whoever the Stormers put up against the visitors. Rohan Janse van Rensburg produced a strong showing last week, but the experiment with Aphiwe Dyantyi at No 13 didn’t work as he seems best suited to wing.
But whoever plays at No 12 and 13 had better be prepared for a big battle as the Stormers’ Damian de Allende is in fine form again and outside him either JJ Engelbrecht or EW Viljoen will want to show they should not be forgotten when talk turns to the national team. The Lions men can ready themselves for a bruising test.
It is no longer a 15-man game. The eight replacements have a huge role to play nowadays, being asked to not only cover for possible injuries in the starting team, but to make an impact in the second half, with an eye on turning the game their team’s way. This is where depth comes in to play, and for the Lions, the likes of flank Marnus Schoeman has been immense lately, coming on in the second half and scoring tries.
And who wouldn’t love Ruan Combrinck on their bench with the job he did last week. The Stormers also have quality depth to call on, but it’s going to come down to which coach makes the right decisions at the right time. If De Bruin gets it right, the Lions will win, for the 21st time in a row against a SA team.