When the British & Irish Lions face South Africa A on Wednesday evening, the explosive reintroduction of Premiership rivals Jasper Wiese and Talupe Faletau awaits, writes ANDRE PIERRE CRONJE.
The injury to Duane Vermeulen has blown open the competition for the rights to the Springbok No 8 starting jersey. One player champing at the bit all season has been Jasper Wiese. Against the B&I Lions he will finally have the opportunity to cut loose in the green and gold to stake his claim.
Wiese has been a phenom this year for Leicester Tigers. His acceleration into contact and ferocity with ball in hand has become a hallmark feature of his play. On Wednesday night, he will have the opportunity to test himself against the best of the best.
At times on this tour the B&I Lions have looked jittery when put under physical pressure. The Sharks fronted up well for the first half in their second outing against the tourists and showed that when physical pressure is applied the Lions can make mistakes.
As possibly SA A’s most destructive carrier in the forwards, Wiese will have a clear role tonight – bring the heat.
Expect to see the former Cheetahs man used as a carrier off the set piece to try to puncture holes in the red wall. Winning in the contact zone and getting over the gainline will be vital if SA A are to nullify the Lions’ linespeed on defence, and Wiese could be key in this area.
In defence, Wiese is no wimp, either. He will bring plenty of stopping power to halt the forward momentum of a potent Lions pack. The tourists have had it all their way so far this tour when it comes to bossing the physical collisions; with Wiese on the park that will end.
The one area of Wiese’s game which may be of some concern is his discipline. SA A can ill-afford to concede any cards for reckless play. The Sharks showed that if you give the Lions a man advantage, they are ruthless. Wiese will need to bring a controlled aggression as the Lions will undoubtedly target him to rile him up.
On the opposite side of the scrum, Talupe Faletau has been handed the starting jersey at No 8 for the tourists. The Welshman is comfortably one of the best eighthmen playing in the northern hemisphere and looks set to start in the Test series as well.
Faletau brings a versatile game and can cover every position in the back row. It is, however, at No 8 where he will be at his most deadly. The space he will be afforded off the back of the scrum will allow him ample opportunity to show off his speed and footwork.
Marco van Staden, at openside, will need to be razor sharp to cut down Faletau’s space or else risk the No 8 wreaking havoc if allowed to target Morne Steyn’s channel.
Though more than capable of mixing it with the heavies, Faletau is a wonderfully balanced player. His handling skills are second to none and he boasts a strong offloading game to boot. The South Africans will need to be wary of allowing him to get his arms free in the tackle.
Working in tandem with partners Josh Navidi and Tom Curry, Faletau complements a Lions back row that will attack the breakdown and look to cause the Boks all sorts of misery in this area.
Although Curry is the most renowned fetcher, Faletau’s breakdown skills cannot be underestimated. The South Africans will need to match his speed to the breakdown or else he could be devastating.
It is rare that fans get to experience such a tantalising matchup. Though similar in many ways, Faletau and Wiese are also diametric opposites. Faletau the established veteran, Wiese the young upstart. Faletau brings the silky skills, Wiese brings the fire and fury.
Who will come out on top in this Tussle of the Titans?