Lionel Mapoe has been a rock in midfield. Photo: Kim Ludbrook, EPA
Lionel Mapoe has been a rock in midfield. Photo: Kim Ludbrook, EPA
Jaco Kriel will lead the charge from the front for the Lions. Photo: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePix
Jaco Kriel will lead the charge from the front for the Lions. Photo: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePix
It’s Jordie Barrett and his brother Beauden who will pose threats to the Lions. Photo: Andrew Cornaga, www.photosport.nz
It’s Jordie Barrett and his brother Beauden who will pose threats to the Lions. Photo: Andrew Cornaga, www.photosport.nz
JOHANNESBURG  It promises to be a high-octane affair when the Lions host the Hurricanes in a Super Rugby semi-final match at Ellis Park on Saturday (2.30pm kickoff).

Here, rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen highlights the men who could light up the contest and potentially be their team’s match-winner.

Ruan Combrinck

The 27-year-old wing is back in business big time since returning from injury a few weeks ago. He scored a double against the Bulls on his return, and since then has added a further three five-pointers. He’s a whole-hearted player who gives the Lions plenty of X-factor out wide, his big strength being his power and step.

He’s got plenty more than that though, including his ability to kick with both feet and at goal; last weekend’s 55m match-winner against the Sharks is proof of his big-match temperament. He’s a player who thrives on the big stage, and it hardly gets bigger than this.

Lionel Mapoe

You just don’t get more sound than the Lions No 13. Mapoe has been a rock in the midfield for some time now, and has been one of his team’s brightest stars again this season.

At 29, he’s been around a bit and knows what is needed to be successful in Super Rugby,  and what a challenge awaits him and Harold Vorster who are coming up against arguably the best midfield pairing in the competition, in Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso.

Mapoe ranks favourably in most of the attack stats such as tackle breaks (sixth), line-breaks and offloads, and will hope to deliver another solid showing against quality opposition.

Jaco Kriel

One can use a number of different words to describe the Lions openside flank and stand-in skipper, but “machine” probably suits him best. He’s strong, does what is expected of him and runs fast and without fail; he’s dependable basically, very dependable in fact.

With eight tries behind his name, he’s a man the Hurricanes will want to keep an eye on, but keeping him in check is easier said than done. Kriel is at his most dangerous out wide, running the touchline and collecting kick-passes. He also makes his fair share of line-breaks and tackle breaks; generally just a real star.

Ruan Combrinck's big boot and counter-attacking ability will be key. Photo: Samuel Shivambu, BackpagePix

Jordie Barrett

If it’s not Beauden doing the damage to the opposition, it’s either Scott or Jordie,  and on Saturday, it’s Beauden and Jordie who the Lions have to face. If they win and the Crusaders beat the Chiefs, then they’ll be up against Scott next week in the final.

Young Jordie, who is just 20 years old, has been sensational this season. Be it at fullback or centre,  he just has everything going for him  he’s quick, he’s strong and he’s a points-scorer of note. It doesn’t matter where he pops up in the backline, the Lions will have to keep a close watch on his every move. And then there’s his accurate goal-kicking...

Ngani Laumape

The 24-year-old has enjoyed a fabulous season, which has seen him being selected for the All Blacks, too. He’s a real powerhouse midfielder who, with centre teammate Vince Aso, has carved up defences this year. Both men have scored 14 tries, for the best return in the competition.

For the number of metres he’s carried the ball and for line-breaks and tackle breaks, Laumape features in the top 10, an indication of just how lethal he’s been in 2017. He’ll run hard and straight at the Lions backs, a test they’ve not been subjected to this year.

Ngani Laumape is devastating with ball-in-hand. Photo: Christiaan Kotze, BackpagePix

Ardie Savea

What is it with all these sets of brothers in the Hurricanes team? If it’s not the Barretts, it’s the Saveas, Julian and Ardie. While wing Julian will always be a threat out wide, it’s younger brother Ardie who may ask more questions upfront at Ellis Park.

The 23-year-old flank has enjoyed a stunning rise in the last three years, becoming a star All Black and key member of his Canes team. He’s a strong all-round player who wins his fair share of turn-over ball, but he also carries strongly and puts in the big hits. Having faced the Du Preez twins last week, the Lions will know what to expect.


The Star

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