Lions captain Warren Whiteley will bring width on attack and work-rate in defence. Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – A look at the results, statistics, facts and figures over the course of the 2018 Super Rugby competition suggests there’s not much separating the Lions and Waratahs ahead of today’s semi-final at Ellis Park.

Rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen matches up the teams, and finds the Lions might just have the edge…

The Back-Three

It’s an all-Springbok fullback-wing division against the highly-rated Tahs trio, including Israel Folau and try-machine Taqele Naiyaravoro.

There’s not much to choose between them, with the Lions’ Ruan Combrinck and Andries Coetzee possibly better kickers than anyone in the Tahs back-three.

In attack, there’s danger in every player in both outfits. Under the high ball the Tahs might be stronger, while defensively, the Lions men look stronger.

Score: Lions 8/10, Waratahs 8/10

The Midfield

The inside centre battle between the underrated but hugely talented Harold Vorster and the Waratahs’ Wallaby star Kurtley Beale will be fascinating to watch.

On his day Vorster has no equal in SA, his running lines exemplary. Beale though, with his step, his swerving runs, his pace, is in a class of his own.

Lionel Mapoe is the calm, seasoned pro who knows his way through a hole, but let’s not write off the Tahs’ Curtis Rona, a man to be marked closely.

Score: Lions 7, Waratahs 8

The Halfbacks

Again, there is not all that much between the two combinations. The Lions duo of Elton Jantjies and Ross Cronjé are happiest playing at Ellis Park in Lions colours, and hardly come off second best at home. If they’re on song, the Lions will win.

But Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps are two experienced operators too, and players who direct everything the Tahs do. Kicking all-round will be key, and the Lions may just have the edge here.

Score: Lions 8, Waratahs 7

Waratahs flyhalf Bernard Foley will try to dictate play against the Lions. Photo: Craig Golding/EPA

The Loose Trio

Both teams are missing key figures – the Lions Jaco Kriel, who hasn’t played all season, and also Cyle Brink, who picked up an injury last weekend; the Waratahs their captain Michael Hooper, who’s injured and is a huge blow for them.

The Lions have gambled by picking a third lock in Lourens Erasmus at flank, but in Kwagga Smith and Warren Whiteley, they have experienced performers who should shade their opponents over 80 minutes.

Score: Lions 8, Waratahs 6

The Tight Five

In Wallaby stars Sekope Kepu and Rob Simmons and powerhouses Tolu Latu and Jed Holloway, the Tahs pack a punch in the tight-five, but they won’t match the star-studded unity of the Lions.

Ruan Dreyer is a machine at scrum-time, Franco Mostert a grafter of the highest order from the second row, and then there’s Malcolm Marx, the best hooker on the planet. The Lions will dominate upfront because of their tight-five.

Score: Lions 9, Waratahs 6

The Bench

Again, the Lions appear to have the edge here and how important the replacements will be in what should be a fast-paced game where fresh legs will be needed towards the end.

The Lions are a team that usually finish strongly, and in Dylan Smith, Hacjivah Dayimani, Marnus Schoeman, Dillon Smit and Courtnall Skosan, they pack real fire-power for later on.

It’ll be interesting to see if the Tahs can maintain their assault deep into the contest.

Score: Lions 7, Waratahs 6

Totals: Lions 47/60, Waratahs 41/60

Prediction

Both teams have averaged five tries per game this season, so I’d be very surprised if this is not another try-fest.

I’d like to think that in the dry Highveld air both teams will play expansive, attacking rugby.

Whoever defends best will win, and I think that team will be the Lions, obviously helped by the fact they’re playing at home. They’ll win by 10 in a high-scoring affair.

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Teams For Ellis Park

Lions: Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronjé, Warren Whiteley (captain), Lourens Erasmus, Kwagga Smith, Franco Mostert, Marvin Orie, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Jacques van Rooyen.

Bench: Corné Fourie, Dylan Smith, Johannes Jonker, Hacjivah Dayimani, Marnus Schoeman, Dillon Smit, Courtnall Skosan, Howard Mnisi.

Waratahs: Israel Folau, Alex Newsome, Curtis Rona, Kurtley Beale, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Bernard Foley (captain), Nick Phipps, Michael Wells, Will Miller, Ned Hanigan, Rob Simmons, Jed Holloway, Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Tom Robertson.

Bench: Damien Fitzpatrick, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Paddy Ryan, Tom Staniforth, Brad Wilkin, Jake Gordon, Bryce Hegarty, Cam Clark.

Kickoff: 3.05pm. Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand).

 

Saturday Star

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