Marnitz Boshoff's greater tactical intelligence could make all the difference against the Sharks at Ellis Park on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
Play-off matches are decided by the boot. Whether it be from hand or kicking tee, Boshoff is the man for the job. It's been a stellar season for the Golden Lions flyhalf, and one that could well culminate in some silverware.
His return from a broken arm suffered in the early part of the Currie Cup has come at the perfect time for the Lions. While Jaco van der Walt proved an able deputy in his absence, Boshoff's composure and decision-making in the pivot position will be crucial to the outcome of Saturday's semi-final.
The Lions have been guilty at times this season of playing too much rugby in the wrong areas of the field. With Boshoff at flyhalf, they look a more balanced team – one that can play semi-final rugby and win.
His opposite number on Saturday, Lionel Cronjé, has had a good season with the Sharks. Written off as nothing more than a journeyman, he has shown glimpses of the talent that made him hot property during his school days. What he lacks, however, is the ability to impose himself on a match. Play-off matches are often won by significant individual contributions. Think Catrakilis in the 2011 Currie Cup final and Pat Lambie a year prior.
Boshoff has won matches for the Lions this season and, on Saturday, he could prove the difference between these two sides.
The Lions' recent record against the Sharks offers up a bit of an anomaly. They've won just one of the last five meetings between the two, but their record improves considerably when taking only matches at Ellis Park into consideration.
Last season's 31-25 loss was the only home defeat in the last five meetings, a run that includes their resounding victory in the 2011 final. They've also won all their home matches this season, although the Sharks have travelled well in both Super Rugby and Currie Cup.
There have been few surprises in selection, with both teams entering the play-offs with settled combinations. The Lions have retained the team that crushed the Free State Cheetahs at home last weekend.
The only change to the match-day squad comes on the bench, where Kwagga Smith returns after featuring for the Blitzboks in Australia last weekend. Along with Willie Britz and Armand van der Merwe, he'll be looking to make an impact during the second half as the Sharks begin to tire.
Meanwhile, the Sharks have made just one change for the trip to Johannesburg, where Kyle Cooper returns at hooker after missing last weekend's match with an ankle injury. They've once again gone with a five-two split on the bench, as they look to combat the Lions' strength up front.
2014: Sharks won 26-23 (Durban)
2013: Sharks won 31-25 (Johannesburg)
2013: Sharks won 33-25 (Durban)
2012: Lions won 28-22 (Johannesburg)
2012: Sharks won 30-14 (Durban)
BOSHOFF'S STATS THAT MATTER
8 – The number of drop goals he kicked in this year's Super Rugby (Rank 1)
189 – The number of points he scored (Rank 4)
43 – The number of penalties he kicked (Rank 4)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Golden Lions – 15 Marnitz Boshoff, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronjé, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Julian Redelinghuys, 18 Willie Britz, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Kwagga Smith 21 Mark Richards, 22 Harold Vorster.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 Tonderai Chavhanga, 13 S’bura Sithole, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Lionel Cronjé, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Tera Mtembu (c), 7 Etienne Oosthuizen, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Thomas du Toit.
Subs: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 JC Astle, 20 Khaya Majola, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Fred Zeilinga.
Photo: Gallo Images