JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the big Vodacom Super Rugby game at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The Lions are coming off a bye, and have welcomed back a few players from injury. They are undefeated at Ellis Park in 2014 having scored some big victories against the Stormers, Blues and Reds. Can they slay another set of giants when the Crusaders descend on Doornfontein this Saturday? You had better believe it.
That said, the Crusaders are giants by reputation rather than current form. They last won a title in 2008, and have looked schoolyard ordinary in 2014. While they have a few All Blacks who are capable of swinging a contest with a piece of individual brilliance, they are not the collective unit they once were.
The Lions, by contrast, boast unity as their defining strength. Marnitz Boshoff has received many of the plaudits in the past few weeks, and there is little doubt that the flyhalf deserves it for his remarkable decision-making and accuracy. Boshoff could be the man who is asked to win the game with a goal-kick this Saturday, but his team-mates will have to play well enough for him to be in a position to do so.
The Crusaders may have the edge at the lineout, and the scrums could also go the way of the visitors. However, it's at the breakdowns and collisions where the rabid Lions could make the biggest statement. And if the Lions succeed in winning territory and then forcing the Crusaders to concede penalties, Boshoff is going to come into play with that golden goal-kicking boot.
Prediction: Lions by 6
When it comes to the Lions you're kind of waiting for the dream to end, aren't you? Well, probably not if you support the franchise. On paper their 23s look decidedly ordinary, easily beatable. On grass they're anything but.
The synergy, heart and dynamism they play with is underpinned by some astute tactics. Johan Ackermann has tailored his attacking and defensive strategy around the personnel at his disposal, something his predecessors have failed to do. The results are plain to see, and I believe they'll continue their hot streak at Ellis Park this weekend.
The Crusaders are every bit the antithesis of the Lions in terms of expectations. You're waiting for a sleeping giant to awaken and flatten every opponent in their paths. Instead they continue to sink further into mediocrity, stumbling from one ordinary showing to the next. This despite a side laden with All Blacks.
They've clearly missed Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, and with Kieran Read now ruled out of Saturday's match, I can't see them winning. The contest up front will be immense, but the Lions have competed well in this regard against more fancied opponents than the Crusaders to date.
Their main concern will be repelling the New Zealanders' strike runners and limiting the soft moments on defence that have undermined their cause over the course of the tournament. Manage that and they're good to go, with Marnitz Boshoff likely to play a key role in general play and from the kicking tee.
Prediction: Lions by 8
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Marnitz Boshoff, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Willie Britz, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Warwick Tecklenburg, 21. Ross Cronjé, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 JW Jonker.
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Nemani Nadolo, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty (c), 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Tom Taylor.
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