JOHANNESBURG – The Lions’ ability to score tries from nothing – and often late in games – will see them power to a first Super Rugby title at a packed Ellis Park this evening.
And leading the way will be right wing Ruan Combrinck who’ll be a key man for the home team against the seven-time champions, the Crusaders. But not far behind will be a raft of Lions game-breakers, players with real X-factor, who’ll ask as many questions of the Crusaders as Combrinck does.
Here we think of fullback Andries Coetzee, a player who’ll always look to counter-attack rather than kick, left wing Courtnall Skosan, who’s one of the quickest men in the competition and who knows his way to the tryline, centre Harold Vorster, who’s become the master of the angled run.
Flyhalf Elton Jantjies is as good as any No 10 in the game at the moment, and then upfront, the likes of Kwagga Smith, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert and Malcolm Marx.
And then, on the bench, there are powerhouses Akker van der Merwe, Lourens Erasmus, Faf de Klerk, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Sylvian Mahuza.
These are among the Lions’ men who have grabbed the headlines in the Lions’ 15-match unbeaten run at home since April last year. They are the players who’ll look to unlock the standout defensive system in the competition, which belongs to the Crusaders of Kieran Read.
But it is Combrinck who may just be the man who steals the show today. After missing the biggest part of the competition because of a shoulder injury he returned to action in late May against the Bulls with two tries - and hasn’t looked back.
He’s scored a good few more five-pointers since that comeback and showed just what a valuable member he is of this Lions team of Johan Ackermann. But it’s not only his try-scoring ability that makes him such a standout winger.
He’s a strong runner who almost always powers his way over, or around, his opposite number, getting his team on the front foot, while his off-loading is as good as anyone playing the game.
He’s a creator out wide – one of the main reasons why the Lions have been able to score so many tries – and he’s got vision. His chip kicks into space are often the undoing of teams, and then there is his strong defence on the touchline and his big boot – possibly his biggest weapon today.
There are not too many outside backs in South Africa who can kick as well as Combrinck does with both feet, which makes him a very valuable player for the Lions.
And he’s sure to use that booming boot to drive the Crusaders back today – and how he’ll have to. And then there’s that thing no one can coach – BMT. And boy, does he have it in loads.
Remember last year how he saved the Springboks on debut with a spectacular try in the corner at Ellis Park against Ireland ... well he also saved the Lions from being dumped out of this competition with that 55m monster penalty he landed against the Sharks in the quarter-finals. That took some balls.
Of course, Combrinck and his try-hungry backs will only be attacking factors if their pack gets on top and that’s going to be the key today.
The Crusaders are a side stacked with All Blacks upfront, they’re the best unit in the competition when it comes to scrums and lineouts and they have an uncanny ability to hang onto the ball for long periods, starving the opposition.
But if the Lions can win their fair share of the spoils, there’s no reason why the their game-breakers won’t have a big say this evening.
The Lions are the leading try-scoring team in the competition, and that’s quite something when measured against the so-called masters of attacking rugby in the New Zealand teams, they’re at home, in front of their own fans, they know they got the better of this same Crusaders side a year ago in the quarter-finals, and they know they will never have a chance like this one again.
It’s time... let South Africa hear the roar.
Teams For Ellis Park
Lions: Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronjé, Ruan Ackermann, Kwagga Smith, Jaco Kriel (capt), Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: Akker van der Merwe, Corné Fourie, Johannes Jonker, Lourens Erasmus, Cyle Brink, Faf de Klerk, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Sylvian Mahuza.
Crusaders: David Havili, Israel Dagg, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, Seta Tamanivalu, Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock (capt), Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.
Replacements: Ben Fennell, Wyatt Crockett, Michael Alaalatoa, Luke Romano, Pete Samu, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, George Bridge.
Referee: Jaco Peyper