JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the big Vodacom Super Rugby game at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The Lions have leaked too many tries in recent weeks but should tighten up when they host the Sharks this Saturday. Expect them to play a more tactical game, taking on the Sharks pack at the collisions and utilising Marnitz Boshoff's exemplary boot. The Lions flyhalf has been fantastic in front of goal this season, but it should also be noted that his tactical kicking has also allowed his side to – at times – play a very effective territorial game.
The Sharks are without their first-choice halfbacks and fullback, and so this fixture on the highveld represents a big test for those selected to fill the void at 9, 10, and 15. Fred Zeilinga showed his mettle in the Sharks' last match against the Waratahs, and while he will need to follow this up with a solid goal-kicking showing in Johannesburg, more will be expected from him as a tactical kicker. The Lions will look to put the inexperienced Sharks flyhalf under pressure, and should also target Lwazi Mvovo, who is not a natural fullback.
However, where the Lions may struggle is up front. The Sharks boast some outstanding players in the front and back rows, and will look to dominate the battle at close quarters from the outset. This will ease the pressure on men like Zeilinga, and allow the Sharks to implement their game plan to full effect.
It won't be close, but it won't be completely one-sided either. The Sharks will be happy to come away from another abrasive encounter with four log points.
Prediction: Sharks by 9
In recent weeks the Lions' dream run has started to show signs of seizing. It'll come to a gradual halt rather than a dramatic, whiplash-inducing one. They froze against an average Crusaders side at Ellis Park last Saturday, seemingly spooked by their reputation, which in reality has long been eroded. Now faced with a highly competent opponent, I suspect their deficiencies will once again be brutally exposed.
For a start, I don't think they'll match the Sharks up front through 80 minutes. The Sharks' all-Springbok front row should trump their combative counterparts, and the launch-pad the scrum will provide will be critical to the Sharks' success. Conversely, while Marnitz Boshoff has been excellent when given the space and time to operate, he has struggled when put under pressure. The scrum and breakdown recycle won't be strong points for his side and he'll have to adapt accordingly to influence the game in general play.
The Lions rely heavily on go-forward for their success. That is to say that their tactical kicking game lacks the quality it needs to trouble the Sharks and the visitors will seek to force them into engaging that tactic. I do feel Jake White's men will be vulnerable at lineout time, but this isn't a facet of play that will be terminal to their cause.
Frans Steyn would have been working furiously on his partnership with Fred Zeilinga and S’bura Sithole and I expect to see much more synergy in that 10-12-13 axis. Beyond them the Sharks have the game-breakers to exploit broken-field opportunities, which I suspect will become common place as the Sharks starve the Lions of territory and force them into desperate, expansive plays.
Prediction: Sharks by 10
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 Derick Minnie, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 MB Lusaseni, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Ross Cronjé, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Alwyn Hollenbach.
Sharks – 15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 S’bura Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis (c), 1 Beast Mtawarira.
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Stefan Ungerer, 22 Paul Jordaan, 23 SP Marais.