JOHANNESBURG – The Lions will be up against the odds when they take on the Crusaders in this Saturday's Super Rugby final in Christchurch, but they do have several X-factors players who will be looking to inspire an upset victory.
Here we take a look at five players to watch:
The Springbok hooker recently returned from injury and has wasted little time in quickly rediscovering his best form. Marx was the deserved Man of the Match in the Lions' quarter-final victory over the Jaguares, while he scored a brace of tries in this past Saturday's semi-final against the Waratahs. Marx is the beating heart in the Lions pack, with the 24-year-old having been widely acknowledged as currently the world's best hooker. If Marx has another storming game on Saturday, anything is possible.
During this past Saturday's semi-final, Smith underlined the fact that there are few other flankers who can offer as much impact pound-for-pound. The Blitzboks superstar regularly punches above his weight, which he demonstrated in fine fashion as he dotted down for two superb tries against the Waratahs. Smith won't have fond memories of last year's final when he received a costly first-half red card, and there is no doubt that he will be looking for redemption this weekend.
The Lions' influential No 8 is another player who has recently returned from injury and has made an immediate impact. Whiteley's role as a leader is just as important as his on-field ability, where he serves as a dynamic linking eighthman. With Whiteley returning to No 8, the Lions' back row looks far more balanced, while he also offers another important lineout option.
The enigmatic flyhalf has been at his mercurial best in the first two knockout games. Jantjies claimed the Man of the Match award against the Jaguares, and he carried that form over into the semi-finals, where he was cool, calm and collected. However, there are critics who have suggested Jantjies is guilty of fading into anonymity when playing away from home in high-pressured environments, and so he will have a massive point to prove this Saturday.
The Lions' flyer scored arguably the solo try of the season this past Saturday. Receiving the ball in his own half, Dyantyi chipped ahead, collected his own kick and then darted past a flailing Bernard Foley. It was an apt demonstration of Dyantyi's all-around class, with the talented youngster has enjoyed a dream debut season in Super Rugby to date. There is some concern over a hamstring injury he picked up in that semi-final, though, and the Lions will be praying that he recovers in time to feature against the Crusaders.
African News Agency (ANA)