JOHANNESBURG – It’s always a brutal battle when the Lions and Sharks clash on the rugby field and tonight’s round eight Super Rugby showdown at Ellis Park should be no different.
Here rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen highlights four key match-ups that could play a role in determining who comes out on top in this high-anticipated local derby.
Aphiwe Dyantyi versus Lukhanyo Am
As exciting as the prospect is of the hot-stepping and speedy Dyantyi playing outside centre - a position where he has played before and where he is likely to see more action - it remains a gamble on the part of Lions boss Swys de Bruin. Dyantyi has mainly featured on the wing in the past two seasons and while he is likely to add something of an X-factor to the Lions’ attacking game at 13, it’s in defence, against the skilful and crafty Am, that he’ll be most tested.
The Sharks man, too, will be under some pressure, not knowing quite what to expect of Dyantyi being closer to the action. Whoever comes out on top defensively should end up on the winning side.
Elton Jantjies versus Rob du Preez
There have been calls for the Sharks No 10 jersey to be handed to Curwin Bosch, to see what he can offer in place of Du Preez, who’s had an up-and-down competition so far. But it’s the coach’s son who’ll be up against Jantjies this evening. The Lions flyhalf has once again been the steady operator for his team and with his good pals, Lionel Mapoe and Dyantyi, outside him he’ll be relishing the opportunity of taking on the Sharks backs.
The pressure’s all on Du Preez to show he should be his team’s first choice flyhalf. And, the quality of the goal-kicking by the two No 10s will be as important as how they guide their teams around the field.
Cyle Brink versus Jacques Vermeulen
The Lions grinder, considered by Bok boss Rassie Erasmus as one of this country’s strongest, toughest and under-rated flankers, returns after spending the last eight months on the sidelines. And he’s up against an equally under-rated but powerful player in Vermeulen, who has been one of his team’s most impressive players in recent times.
These two men are the defensive blockers and the hard-running ball-carriers, who’re likely to be very much in the heart of the battle. After suffering injury setbacks to a number of loose-forwards, the Lions will hope that Brink’s return will add a new and different punch to the Lions pack.
Carlu Sadie versus Beast Mtawarira
It really is the rookie upstart going head-to-head with the Springbok veteran. Mtawarira has been a Super Rugby presence for over 12 years and has over 150 matches in the bag; the Lions’ Sadie is in his second year of senior rugby and is only 21 years old. At 33, the Sharks man is still one of the best and craftiest in his trade, but young Sadie, who has taken over from Ruan Dreyer as the Lions’ scrum anchor, has been a rock for his team this year.
With the scrum playing such a big part in modern-day rugby, where penalties are often won and lost, the battle between tighthead Sadie and loosehead Mtawarira will be a massive one.@jacq_west