Elton Jantjies will lend the Lions an edge in the derby against the Stormers at Ellis Park on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Last Friday, the Stormers put seven tries past the Sunwolves in a 46-19 victory. While they secured five log points, the performance must be remembered in context.
The Sunwolves were without many of their star players, and yet they managed to cut the Stormers defence. The Cape side conceded three tries and missed as many as 30 tackles. As coach Robbie Fleck admitted afterwards, it was the Stormers' worst defensive showing of the season.
A day later in Durban, the Lions produced a more balanced display to down the Sharks 24-9. The Lions took some good options on attack, but were especially impressive on defence.
The Lions should be the more confident of the two sides ahead of the derby at Ellis Park. They are playing an entertaining yet smart brand of rugby, and much of their success is down to the option-taking of their No 10.
In the wake of the Lions' convincing win at Kings Park, Sharks director of rugby Gary Gold made a big statement. Gold said that Elton Jantjies deserved to start at No 10 for the Springboks in the upcoming Tests against Ireland. The statement affirmed the view of many who believe that Jantjies has been the form South African flyhalf in 2016.
Of course, Jantjies's outstanding performances on attack and with the tactical boot would not have been possible without the contribution of his forwards. The Lions will strive to maintain their imposing form at the scrums and breakdowns this Saturday.
The Stormers will head into the battle as underdogs. For the Cape side to have any chance of winning at Ellis Park, the pack must fire and the backs must catch Jantjies behind the gainline.
'Every game is important at this stage of the competition,' Fleck said on Thursday. 'We're looking to build some confidence. We're coming up against a South African side that is leading the way, and we need to challenge ourselves to put in a big performance.'
The Stormers have the power upfront to compete with the Lions at scrum time. The Stormers loose forwards, however, may struggle to match their Lions counterparts for speed to the breakdowns, and in general play. Last week, the combination of Jaco Kriel, Warwick Tecklenburg and Warren Whiteley also showed an appetite for a fight in the trenches.
The inexperienced players in the Stormers backline may be targeted by the Lions attack. Flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis will earn his second start for the Stormers this weekend. He won't enjoy as much space to attack as he did in the previous game against a second-string Sunwolves side, and he may be forced to make far more tackles against the Lions.
The 21-year-old scored 16 points against the Sunwolves, but his performance included several missed goal attempts. Given that the Lions boast one of the tournament's best goal-kickers in Jantjies, Du Plessis will be under pressure to produce a more accurate showing at Ellis Park this Saturday.
Stormers co-captain Juan de Jongh, however, feels that the performance of the collective will be more important than that of one or two individuals.
'It will be like two killers meeting,' De Jongh said, referring to the heavyweight status of the Stormers (Africa 1 conference leaders) and the Lions (Africa 2 leaders). 'We know what to expect from Elton, but we can't just focus on him.
'They're a team that's in form. We're also a team that's in form. We will look to focus on our strengths and exploit their weaknesses.'
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Stormers 11, Lions 1, Draw 1
In Johannesburg: Stormers 6, Lions 1
STATS AND FACTS
– These teams played out a 19-19 draw in their last encounter.
– The Lions have won six of their last eight matches at home while they haven’t lost a home match to a South African team since they last hosted the Stormers in round three, 2015.
– The Stormers have won their last two matches away from home, although they have lost two of their last three matches away to South African teams.
– The Lions have scored nine of their tries after gaining possession from a lineout win, the second most of any team in the competition (Brumbies, 11).
– Eben Etzebeth has stolen nine lineouts so far this season, the most of any player and four more than next best (Elliot Dixon, Highlanders).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Lions||Elton Jantjies (80)||Lionel Mapoe (3)||Ruan Combrinck (397)||Warren Whiteley (56)|
|Stormers||Kurt Coleman (38)||Sikhumbuzo Notshe (3)||Cheslin Kolbe (395)||Schalk Burger (58)|
Lions – 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé, 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 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Ruan Ackermann, 20 Cyle Brink, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Andries Coetzee, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (c), 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 JC Janse Van Rensburg.
Subs: 16 Mike Willemse, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Rynhardt Elstadt, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Damian de Allende, 23 Huw Jones.
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Willie Vos (South Africa)
The Money Man's betting tips (to come)
Photo: Carl Fourie/Gallo Images