• Five stars to watch

    CRAIG LEWIS picks five players who could be key to the outcome of Saturday’s semi-final between the Lions and Hurricanes at Ellis Park.

    Ruan Combrinck
    If there was any need for evidence of the big-match temperament Combrinck possesses, it was provided beyond doubt last weekend. Without a second thought, he readily stepped up to slot a 55m penalty that ensured the Lions salvaged a fortuitous win over the Sharks. Combrinck is clearly the sort of player who thrives in a high-pressure environment, and he will be relishing the opportunity to make another decisive impact in Saturday’s crunch clash. Not only will he have a key role to play on attack for the Lions, but he may well be called on at some stage to complete some of the goal-kicking duties. As he did last weekend, don’t be surprised if Combrinck once again steals some of the headlines on Saturday.

    Elton Jantjies
    Just as Combrinck emerged as last weekend’s hero, many viewed Jantjies as the Lions’ villain. Although Jantjies did have a nightmare outing and made a host of errors, some of the criticism that has come his way has been a bit over the top. Nevertheless, he will be determined to respond with the sort of performance that silences those critics and underlines his ability to perform in the big-match moments. There’s no doubt that Jantjies’ strengths are nullified when his team is forced to backpedal, and in this regard he needs his forwards to lay a solid foundation up front. He would have also spent plenty of time working on his goal-kicking this week, and it’s an aspect of his game that the Lions can’t afford to have misfiring this time around.

    ALSO READ: Hands off Jantjies

    Malcolm Marx
    The physical youngster has established himself as one of the leading hookers in world rugby over the course of a memorable 2017 season. He will not only have a crucial ball-carrying role to play on Saturday, but his ability to compete at the breakdown and disrupt the Hurricanes’ ball may well prove to be decisive to the complexion of the encounter. First-phase possession is also sure to be key to the Lions’ cause, and Marx’s accuracy at lineout time will be of integral importance as the hosts look to launch from this set piece. If Marx has a storming game, it could make all the difference to the outcome of Saturday’s clash.

    ALSO READ: Lions vs Hurricanes preview

    Jordie Barrett
    Barrett’s meteoric rise to prominence has been quite remarkable in 2017. In a host of games this season, the 20-year-old has outperformed his highly-regarded older brother, Beauden, while he has quickly established himself as a key member of the Hurricanes’ starting lineup. Although Barrett has filled in at outside centre in recent weeks, he now returns to his preferred position at fullback, and his roaming role could prove to be quite a challenge for the Lions to contend with on Saturday. Barrett has a full range of skills, while the towering fullback's aerial ability ensures he is the perfect recipient for his brother’s pinpoint cross-kicks or contestable bombs. The younger Barrett also performs a key role as the Canes’ pinpoint goal kicker, which only adds to his responsibilities as one of the most important players in the Hurricanes' lineup.

    Dane Coles
    The All Blacks hooker will make his first Super Rugby start since suffering a concussion against the Highlanders in round four, and the importance of his return cannot be underestimated. Not only does Coles fulfil his primary responsibilities with aplomb, but his pace and ball-handling skills have made him something of a hybrid between a forward and backline player. After spending so much time on the sidelines, Coles is hungry for action, while he would have benefited from last weekend’s cameo off the bench. Saturday’s clash will also be his 100th appearance for the Hurricanes, and one can expect him to produce an inspired performance.

    WATCH: Ackermann on Lions team, Canes threat

    Photo: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP Photo

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    Craig Lewis