A clash of styles will be on the cards when the Sharks host the Lions at Kings Park this Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The importance of this fixture cannot be overstated. The Sharks are looking to extend their lead at the top of the Africa 2 conference before departing on a three-game tour of New Zealand. The Lions will view this as a great opportunity to secure an away win against their biggest conference rivals.
Both teams are coming off a defeat.The Sharks went down 19-14 to the Crusaders in round five (before enjoying a bye in round six). Last week, the Lions lost 43-37 to the same Crusaders side.
The Crusaders outmuscled and outkicked the Sharks in a tight, tactical contest. A week later at Ellis Park, the Crusaders played more expansively against a spirited Lions outfit in a game that witnessed 10 tries.
In the wake of the first match, the Sharks lamented their inaccurate kicking as well as their misfiring attack. After the second, the Lions admitted that their defence and decision-making weren't up to standard. Both teams will go into the derby in Durban with a point to prove.
The Sharks shouldn't move too far away from the game plan used in the match against the Crusaders. What coach Gary Gold will want more of this week is accuracy. The tactical kicking needs to be precise, and the kick-chase needs to put the Lions' receivers under pressure.
The biggest battle, however, will be at the point of contact. The team that wins this particular contest will control the pace of the game.
While the Lions boast a formidable scrum, they are at their most dangerous in broken play. This Saturday, they will look to take the ball wide. They will look for the offload in the tackle.
The Sharks have the personnel to negate those strengths. The pack will have a point to prove at the set pieces. But if the Sharks manage to achieve parity at the scrums and lineouts, they will have an opportunity to boss the collisions and breakdowns.
Marcell Coetzee has been one of South Africa's finest exponents in the latter area. The Sharks openside flank has done a fine job in terms of slowing the speed of the opposition's ruck recycling, and in some instances forcing the breakdown turnover. He will be a handful for the Lions forwards this Saturday.
A fight in the trenches will represent a different sort of test for the Lions loose trio. Jaco Kriel and Warren Whiteley both boast an exceptional tackle-count. They are both blessed with the speed and handling skills of a backline player.
However, Kriel and Whiteley could be forced to employ a different skill set in what may be a forward-oriented derby at Kings Park.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Sharks 10, Lions 3, Draw 1
In Durban: Sharks 7, Lions 0
STATS AND FACTS
– The Sharks have won nine and drawn one of their last 12 matches against the Lions.
– That said, the Lions will be looking for back-to-back wins against the Sharks for the first time after defeating them 23-21 in their last encounter.
– The Sharks average just 16.8 points scored per game across their last four fixtures, though they’ve managed to win twice and draw once in that span.
– The Lions have enjoyed some success on the road of late, winning three and drawing one of their last five matches away from home with each full-time result mirroring the half-time status.
– Elton Jantjies has kicked 23 goals so far this season, the third most of any player in the competition and the most of any South African-based player.
– Paul Jordaan has missed just three of 54 tackle attempts this season, giving him the second best tackle success (94.4%) of any player to have made more than 50 attempts.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Sharks||Joe Pietersen (55)||Lwazi Mvovo (3)||Willie le Roux (278)||Marcell Coetzee (52)|
|Lions||Elton Jantjies (66)||Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe, Armand van der Merwe, Ruan Ackermann (2)||Ruan Combrinck (387)||Warren Whiteley (45)|
Sharks – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira (c)
Subs: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Juan Schoeman, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Garth April, 23 Odwa Ndungane.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 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/Lourens Erasmus, 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 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Rodney Bonaparte (South Africa)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix