Lions face depth test

The Lions’ ability to cope in the absence of injured flyhalf Elton Jantjies will be key to their cause against the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

This season, Jantjies has played a total of 806 minutes out of a possible 880. His consistent and classy performances at flyhalf have been central to the Lions’ success as they've established themselves as the leading team in South Africa.

However, with Jantjies ruled out with a fractured finger and back-up flyhalf Jaco van der Walt sidelined with a knee injury, the Lions have drafted almost-forgotten former Springbok Marnitz Boshoff back into the starting lineup.

Boshoff is set to join Irish club Connacht after Super Rugby, and the Lions are fortunate they could call on a flyhalf with considerable experience and who earned a cap with the Boks in 2014.

Having said that, Boshoff is a completely different flyhalf to Jantjies, with the former more known for his accuracy in front of goal and steady – if unspectacular – play from No 10.

Lions coach Johan Ackermann has insisted that Boshoff needs to play his own game and that the Lions will not adjust their approach at this stage of the season, but it will be interesting to see what sort of impact Jantjies’s absence might have.

Not only that, but Van der Walt has been an impressive performer at fullback, and with Andries Coetzee also missing due to injury, young Sylvian Mahuza will come in at fullback.

Injuries and tactical changes have seen the Lions make seven changes to their starting lineup for this clash, and their squad depth will be tested, while by comparison the Bulls have made just a single change to their side.

What should add another intriguing element to this game, is that while the Lions have won plenty of plaudits for their ambitious brand of rugby (they’ve scored 48 tries and are ranked first for defenders beaten: 302), the Bulls boast the best tackle success: 88.8%.

The Lions aren’t likely to go into their shells on Saturday, but they will also need to be mindful of the fact that patience and accurate execution will be required to wear the Bulls down, who have remained unbeaten at home this season.

The Johannesburg-based side may also look at the scrum as an area where they could gain the ascendancy. As illustrated by’s Opta-powered stats, the Bulls have had a scrum success of just 83% this season, with tighthead prop Marcel van der Merwe having conceded the most penalties of any Super Rugby player this season (22).

The Lions have selected a formidable front row in Julian Redelinghuys, Malcolm Marx and Dylan Smith, with the battle up front quite possibly set to be another decisive factor in Saturday’s game.

In terms of log standings, a win for the Lions would enable them to maintain some breathing room at the top of the South African group, while the Bulls will know that this result could be defining in terms of their battle with the Stormers to finish top of the Africa 1 conference.

It should all make for a fascinating encounter at Loftus on Saturday evening.

Overall: Bulls 11, Lions 2, Draw 1
In Pretoria: Bulls 7, Lions 0

– The Bulls have won 11 and drawn one of their 14 previous encounters with the Lions, although the Johannesburg-based team have won two of the last three.
– The Lions have won four and drawn one of their last six games away from home and are undefeated in their last three away games in South Africa (won two, drawn one).
– The Bulls snapped a two-game losing streak in round 13, although they have still scored only 31 points in their last three Super Rugby games.
– The Bulls have conceded only two tries in the opening quarter of games this season, the joint fewest in Super Rugby (level with the Stormers and Chiefs).
– The Lions have scored 64 more points than they’ve conceded in the 20 minutes leading up to half-time, the most of any team in the competition.
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Bulls Francois Brummer (82) Adriaan Strauss (4) SP Marais (390) Jannes Kirsten (108)
Lions Elton Jantjies (123) Lionel Mapoe (8) Ruan Combrink (798) Franco Mostert (94)

Bulls – 15 SP Marais, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Francois Brummer, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Arno Botha, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Pierre Schoeman, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Deon Stegmann, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Tian Schoeman, 23 Dries Swanepoel.

Lions – 15 Sylvian Mahuza, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith.
Subs: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Ashlon Davids.

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
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Photo: Johan Rynners/Gallo Images

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Craig Lewis