DYLAN JACK looks at five personal duels which could be decisive in the first semi-final between the Vodacom Bulls and Lions on Saturday.
Trevor Nyakane vs Dylan Smith
Where better to start than the scrum? This was an area of the game that was strongly contested by both sides when they last met on the first Wednesday of the month in Pretoria.
In that topsy-turvy match, Dylan Smith appeared to get the better of Trevor Nyakane in the first half, before the Springbok fought his way back in the second period.
The two are likely to go at it again on Saturday and Nyakane will have to be at his best to contain the fired-up Lions loosehead.
Marvin Orie vs Ruan Nortje
Another key area in the first semi-final will of course be the lineout. Ruan Nortje has stepped up this year to take control of this area of the game for the Bulls and the 22-year-old has shown maturity beyond his years to give them a solid platform.
However, he is going to have his work cut out for him on Saturday when he comes up against the Lions’ Marvin Orie, who has been one of the better lineout disruptors this season.
Orie is often happy to play the villain role for his side, niggling the opposition and getting under their skin, often causing his opposite number to lose focus, so Nortje will have to have his wits about him.
Marco van Staden vs Vincent Tshituka
Can the Lions halt the influence of Marco van Staden? That will be one of the key questions asked of the Johannesburg team, given how influential Van Staden has been for the Bulls throughout 2020.
Van Staden has been peerless when it comes to his threat at the breakdown and it will be Lions blindside flank Vincent Tshituka, together with lock Willem Alberts, who will be tasked with ensuring that they get clean ball from the rucks.
Good news for the Lions is that Tshituka has been in good form of late. Not only has he made sure that the Lions halfbacks get the speedy possession they require, but he has also been very effective when asked to carry the ball forward.
Elton Jantjies vs Morne Steyn
Saturday will showcase of South Africa’s two most experienced flyhalves in Elton Jantjies and Morne Steyn, who have both been in top form through Super Rugby Unlocked and the Currie Cup.
Steyn has revived his career somewhat after returning to Pretoria from France and he currently sits fifth on the list of the top points-scorers from the Currie Cup round robin stage. However, the veteran has shown that he is more than just the kicker that he is often typecast as, often taking the ball forward when it is on for him to do so.
Given that he shares the kicking duties with fullback Tiaan Swanepoel, Jantjies hasn’t scored as many as he usually does, but the Lions captain has still been very influential for his side this season.
Both players, of course, will want to show that they have the big-match temperament to guide their respective teams to a win, as they will be eyeing a place in the Springbok squad for the British & Irish Lions series.
Cornal Hendricks vs Burger Odendaal
Having already faced his former side in the round-robin stages, there will be a small part of Burger Odendaal that will want to show the Bulls that they made the wrong decision to discard him as they did midway through 2020.
As Bulls coach Jake White looked to continue Cornal Hendricks’ transition from wing to midfield, former Bulls captain Odendaal was told that he was surplus to requirements and found himself a new home at the Lions. Odendaal is likely to face Hendricks at Loftus Versfeld and will have to put in a strong defensive performance to contain the Bulls player.
Hendricks has been very impressive since wearing the No 12 jersey and has formed a deadly partnership with Blitzbok convert Stedman Gans. The two have a knack of popping up just when they are needed to finish off a try-scoring move for the Bulls.
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