The Lions will be hoping that lightning strikes twice when Elton Jantjies starts at No 12 against the Crusaders in Christchurch, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Lions defied the odds to beat the Chiefs in Hamilton last week. On the back of a clinical set-piece and breakdown performance, the visitors took some excellent attacking options to score two tries in the first half and emerge with a 23-17 victory.
It was surprising to see the Lions coaches backing Gianni Lombard at No 10, Jantjies at 12 and Lionel Mapoe at 13. While it may seem an exciting attacking combination on paper, the visitors would have known about the defensive limitations of the trio going into the game.
What’s more, they would have studied the contest staged at Loftus Versfeld several weeks ago. The Vodacom Bulls failed to stop the Chiefs at the gainline, and ended up conceding seven tries and 56 points on a dark day for the franchise.
The Lions got it right from the outset in Hamilton. Their set-piece was accurate and their attitude at the gainline exemplary. The back-row combination of Kwagga Smith, Cyle Brink and Warren Whiteley produced a game-shaping performance and set the platform for the backs to work their magic.
There was talk of interference in the lead-up to the clash against the Chiefs. In the end, Malcom Marx and Jantjies, playing in the unfamiliar No 12 position, were included in the team and produced influential showings in what was an important win for the Lions and South African rugby.
Thanks to a dominant platform, Jantjies carried well and crossed the gainline regularly. The value of a having a second flyhalf at No 12 – a second distributor– was illustrated on several occasions.
Jantjies’ decision-making and accuracy was evident in the lead-up to Aphiwe Dyantyi’s try. As seen below, Jantjies still has work to do when receiving the ball in midfield.
He attacks the gainline and keeps two defenders interested before passing to Whiteley. The man closer to Whiteley is caught in two minds, and this gives the Lions skipper more time to execute a grubber kick for Dyantyi to chase.
It was a beautiful example of what the Lions can do when they harness their traditional strengths up front and in the wider channels.
Can they do it all again this Friday when they tackle the Crusaders in Christchurch?
Marx hasn’t been selected this week, One wonders if Robbie Coetzee can offer the Lions the same impact at the set pieces and breakdowns.
Shaun Reynolds comes in for the injured Lombard and Jantjies is retained at No 12. Reynolds and Jantjies may struggle to express themselves if their forwards fail to fire against the best pack in the tournament.
Owen Franks, Scott Barrett and Matt Todd will miss the game due to the All Blacks rest protocol. The Crusaders have had their injury problems this season and have rarely operated with a full-strength lineup.
They’ve still managed to score the most tries from first phase (20), a stat which points to their set-piece strength. The Crusaders have scored the most points (264) and tries (40) in the tournament to date. That points to their overall ability to convert opportunities.
Ryan Crotty remains the key man in that Crusaders backline. While they have superstars aplenty – Richie Mo’unga and Sevu Reece will test the Lions defence this Friday – Crotty is the organiser in chief.
The Lions forwards need to take advantage of the fact that Todd is missing from the Crusaders back row. They need to ensure that Crotty and company don’t receive the ball on the front foot.
They need to knock the Crusaders back at the gainline, as they smashed the Chiefs back last week.
The Lions can’t afford to lose the forward battle. According to Opta stats, the Johannesburg-based side is among the worst defensive sides in the tournament. Only three teams have missed more tackles this season. Only two sides have a worse tackle success rate than the Lions (83%).
Jantjies may be hoping that he’s asked to focus on attack rather than defence in Christchurch. While he excelled on attack in Hamilton last week, he missed three of his eight tackle attempts.
Jantjies currently ranks second in the tournament for missed tackles (28) and has proved one of the biggest defensive liabilities with a success rate of 66%.
On the other end of the scale, Crotty has missed only five tackles and has a success rate of 88%.
The game will mark the Lions’ first visit to Christchurch since the 2018 final. The Crusaders thumped the Lions 37-18 on that occasion.
This Friday’s match will present the Lions – and Jantjies – with a shot at redemption.
CRUSADERS vs LIONS, Christchurch (Friday, 9:35am)
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Quinten Strange, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Harry Allan, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Michael Dunshea, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Eretara Enarai, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Ngane Punivai.
Lions – 15 Ruan Combrinck, 14 Sylvian Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Elton Jantjies, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga Smith, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Carlü Sadie, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Sti Sithole.
Subs: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Nathan Mcbeth, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Franco Naude, 23 Tyrone Green.
Photos: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix, John Davidson/Photosport.nz