Cheetahs fullback Willie le Roux will test the Lions' defence at Ellis Park on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
No South African has posed a greater threat with ball in hand in Super Rugby this year than Le Roux, with only the Highlanders' Ben Smith having made more running metres than him (see stats section below). Le Roux has the rare ability to make something out of nothing by running a good line, stepping an opponent or chip kicking into space. He is something special.
Importantly, the 24-year-old has brought balance to his game since making his Test debut in June last year. Only three players have kicked more than him in Super Rugby this season, which shows he has learned to play the situation and not just attack from anywhere. He has also improved significantly under the high ball, with only the Brumbies' Jesse Mogg having caught more kicks than him in 2014.
Le Roux will be the Cheetahs' key man as they look to follow up their shock 27-20 win against the Sharks in Bloemfontein last weekend with a victory that would take them above the Lions on the log. It won't be easy, though, as the Lions are coming off a confidence-boosting 34-17 win against the Rebels at Ellis Park. Warren Whiteley's men are now gunning for a seventh victory this season that would result in their best Super Rugby campaign since splitting from the Cats in 2006.
The Cheetahs have named an unchanged match 23 after Heinrich Brüssow opted to undergo groin surgery this week. Johann Sadie, who will soon be joining Brüssow in Japan, will earn his 50th Super Rugby cap on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Lions have made three changes, with Elton Jantjies getting a rare start at flyhalf ahead of Marnitz Boshoff (who needs 11 more points to reach the 200 mark this season), Lionel Mapoe replacing Deon van Rensburg on the right wing, and Andries Coetzee at fullback having returned from injury.
If recent history is anything to go by, we can expect a close encounter. The Lions edged the Cheetahs 21-20 in round one of this year's tournament, and won 27-25 when the teams last met at Ellis Park, in 2012.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Lions 6, Cheetahs 5
In Johannesburg: Lions 2, Cheetahs 2
* Includes Free State vs Transvaal (in 1997) and Cats vs Cheetahs (in 2006)
LE ROUX'S STATS THAT MATTER
1,049 – The number of running metres Le Roux's made in Super Rugby this season (Rank 2), with only Ben Smith (1,137) making more
84 – The number of kicks he's caught (Rank 2), with only Jesse Mogg (91) catching more
121 – The number of kicks he's made from hand (Rank 4)
41 – The number of times he's collected loose ball (Rank 5)
148 – The number of carries he's made (Rank 8)
Source: Vodacom Rugby Stats App
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Willie Britz, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Courtnall Skosan.
Cheetahs – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Ryno Benjamin, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 16 Caylib Oosthuizen, 17 Luan de Bruin, 18 Carl Wegner, 19 Jean Cook, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Hennie Daniller.
Photo: Louis Botha/Gallo Images