The Lions will rely on Elton Jantjies' game-breaking abilities to pick up a bonus-point win over the Cheetahs at Ellis Park on Saturday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
It is no coincidence that the Lions' most effective attacking performance at Vodacom Super Rugby level in recent seasons saw Jantjies fulfilling the flyhalf role. Marnitz Boshoff remains a solid option at No 10, but he doesn't possess Jantjies' inherent ability to size up the defence in front of him and create space where there is none.
Against the Cheetahs last season, Jantjies did just that as the Lions tore Naka Drotské's side apart to run out 60-25 victors – their largest ever winning margin against their brothers from Bloem.
Jantjies was superb, while outside of him, Lionel Mapoe grabbed a hat-trick on his 50th Super Rugby appearance. The performance that cold Johannesburg evening hinted at what was possible when the Lions get things right.
This season it has been their solid defence rather than anything they've offered on attack that has decided the outcome of many of their matches. However, with home matches against the Cheetahs, Brumbies and Highlanders on the horizon, they have the opportunity to flex their attacking muscles.
The Cheetahs have been dismal defensively this season, and boast the worst record in the competition. The loss of Heinrich Brüssow will only add to their woes, while injuries to Springboks Willie le Roux and Coenie Oosthuizen have once again underlined their lack of depth.
Joe Pietersen will start at fullback, with Willie du Plessis coming in at flyhalf, while Danie Minnie, Torsten van Jaarsveld and Maks van Dyk will be tasked with trying to stop the Lions' formidable scrumming unit.
The Lions come into the match refreshed after a week's break, while their side is largely unaffected by injuries.
Coach Johan Ackermann has made just three changes to the side that saw off the Sharks in their last outing. Armand van der Merwe and Ruan Dreyer will start at hooker and tighthead prop respectively, while Courtnall Skosan has recovered from injury to take his place on the left wing.
Earlier this week Ackermann spoke of Jantjies' leadership role within the squad, and the need for him to produce consistent game-shaping performances. Saturday's match provides him with an opportunity to do just that.
Against a side low on confidence and without a number of key players, the Lions can underline their play-off credentials with a dominant derby display and, in doing so, pick up a franchise record fifth consecutive victory.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Lions 7, Cheetahs 4
In Joburg: Lions 3, Cheetahs 2
FACTS AND STATS
– The Lions are on a franchise record-equalling run of four victories.
– The Lions’ matches this season have averaged 37 points in total and are yet to produce 45-plus.
– The Cheetahs’ last three games have produced fewer than 40 points each.
– The last meeting between these sides produced the Lions’ largest ever victory (60-25).
– The Cheetahs’ 59-10 defeat of the Lions in May 2010 represents their largest win.
– The instances of this fixture have either produced a losing bonus point (seven occasions) or a final points difference of more than 20 points (four occasions).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Lions||Elton Jantjies (71)||Harold Vorster, Warwick Tecklenberg, Ruan Combrinck||Andries Coetzee (355)||Warren Whiteley (125)|
|Cheetahs||Joe Pietersen (71)||Boom Prinsloo (4)||Cornal Hendricks (267)||Boom Prinlsoo (102)|
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Subs: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Julian Redelinghuys, 19 Luvuyiso Lusaseni, 20 Robert Kruger, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Cheetahs – 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Willie du Plessis, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Boom Prinsloo, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveldt, 1 Danie Minnie.
Subs: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 19 Steven Sykes, 20 Carel Greeff, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Michael van der Spuy, 23 Clayton Blommetjies.
Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix