Lions skipper Warren Whiteley has a big chance to impress Springbok coach Allister Coetzee against the Bulls. Photo: EPA
JOHANNESBURG – It’s the big Jukskei derby between the Lions and the Bulls at Ellis Park this afternoon (5.15pm kickoff). The home team are in a good space, having registered 10 wins from 11 games; the Bulls have won just three matches all season.

Both coaches Johan Ackermann and Nollis Marais will want answers to some burning questions, but so, too, national boss Allister Coetzee, who’ll have a beady eye on proceedings.

How will the Lions react after their trip to Australia? The home team today were made to work extremely hard for their three victories on tour and only just edged the Brumbies last Friday.

It would have been a happy, but gruelling trip back to South Africa, and now the Lions have to man up to their bitter rivals from up north – it’s a big ask. How much did that tour take out of them, have they rested sufficiently, and will they just click back into gear on home soil... a place they haven’t lost at in over a year? These are the questions they have to answer today. 

What exactly can we expect of the Bulls? They should have won last week but for a disallowed try following an act of ill-discipline, but even so, the visitors are not in a good space at the moment.

They have battled to score tries and put teams under pressure for long periods this year and have simply not won enough games. Their coaching team and many of the players are in the spotlight and rightly so – they should be performing far better than they are. Will they have the muscle, mental acumen and skills to topple the Lions?

Who’ll win the big front row test?

There are several juicy match-ups to look forward to, but the battle right upfront could well be the best of the bunch. Both Lions props Ruan Dreyer and Jacques van Rooyen weren’t first-choice men last year – that honour belonged to Julian Redelinghuys and Dylan Smith.

But they have been the best props in South Africa this year and face the Bulls’ Trevor Nyakane and Lizo Gqoboka, both of whom have their eyes on Bok honours. Who’ll boss who? Throw Malcolm Marx into the mix for the Lions and the home team might edge it.

Who is Boks’ best bet – Franco or Lood?

The Lions’ No 5 lock has been in sublime form again in 2017 and has been one of his team’s standout operators. He’s the leading ball stealer in the lineouts and is among his team’s top tacklers... his engine never runs out of diesel.

Today, he’s up against a former SA Rugby Player of the Year in Lood de Jager, who returns to the team in place of the suspended RG Snyman... with both men eyeing a spot in the Bok side in June. They’re both athletic and powerful and key for their teams, but who’ll win this battle?

Warren Whiteley is playing under a microscope

Bok boss Coetzee names his 31-man squad for next month’s France series on Tuesday and while he’s unlikely to announce his captain just then, there is no doubting the Lions captain is on the leadership shortlist.

He has led the Lions superbly in the last few seasons and is respected and liked across South Africa... his form is also pretty consistent and he deserves a chance to show what he can do. Other players’ names have been mentioned to lead the team, but Whiteley is a proven, successful captain.

Bulls No 15 Jesse Kriel can stake a claim for the Springbok fullback berth at Ellis Park. Photo: Gavin Barker, BackpagePix

The midfield battle

It’s amazing how much talent this country produces. Injured players like Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Howard Mnisi and Dries Swanepoel aren’t involved in today’s match, but there are still four quality centres who’ll step into the action who are likely to produce some scintillating rugby.

Harold Vorster has been outstanding for the home team and outside him, Lionel Mapoe is a constant threat with ball in hand, while for the Bulls Burger Odendaal and Jan Serfontein have plenty to prove. Get ready for some thrilling entertainment.

Bok No 15 jersey up for grabs?

Bok boss Coetzee has some big calls for make before the first Test against France on June 10 and who plays at fullback is one of them. Pat Lambie is concussed, Warrick Gelant hasn’t shone like many thought he would, SP Marais has his supporters and is a genuine contender, while Curwin Bosch is with the SA Under-20s.

And there’s still Willie le Roux, if Coetzee wants to go that way. But why not the steady, dependable and thrilling Andries Coetzee or Jesse Kriel, who gets another turn at 15 to show what he can do?

Saturday Star

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