The Sharks are on their way to Johannesburg eyeing nothing less than a resounding victory over the Lions. The bad news for the home side is that the visitors have more than enough firepower and quality in all positions to take this fixture with plenty to spare.
In the front row, it’s a case of Bok encumbants against greenhorns, with both Beast Mtawarira and Jannie du Plessis having featured in the Boks’ recent annihilation of the Aussies at the same venue. For all his promise and scrumtime prowess, Heinke van der Merwe can’t boast the same level of experience as du Plessis, while the Beast is expected to have a field day against the young Ross Geldenhuys. Lawrence Sephaka is a seasoned campaigner on the Lions bench, but again, the Sharks hold the trump card in Deon Carstens, who is not only Sephaka’s superior at scrumtime, but is also unmatched by virtually any other prop in the loose.
In the middle of the scrum, it’s again a case of journeymen against current Boks, with Willie Wepener and Etthiene Reynecke in good nick, but not quite in the same class as Bismarck du Plessis. Let’s not forget, the hulking presence of a certain John William Smit on the Sharks bench either. The 70 test veteran hasn’t played any Currie Cup rugby in over two years and will be hungry as hell to make up for lost time. The second row battle should also be won by the Sharks, with Springboks Johann Muller and Albert van den Berg providing an ideal combination of brawn and athleticism. Anton van Zyl is an honest player but has never seriously threatened to qualify for higher honours, while Franco van der Merwe is a loose forward being pressed into service at lock. Don’t expect Jannes Labuschagne’s presence on the bench to amount to a row of beans either. It’s been 5 years out of the game and his body is going to feel every one of those 1500 days should he even make it onto the field.
The Lions tight five boasts a less-than-impressive tally of somewhere around 30 Bok caps ( 1 in the starting lineup and the rest on the bench) whereas the Sharks unit has amassed about 5 times that figure. In fact, the only non-Bok tight forward in the Sharks squad in Steven Sykes.
Somewhat amazingly, Ryan Kankowski is the only capped Bok in either back row. Jacques Botes and Baywatch Grobbelaar will wage a personal battle which is hard to call, as both are in red-hot form this season. The Lions have young Derick Minnie on the blindside and exciting though he is, he has one serious problem; Jean Deysel weighs almost 25kg more than he does. Kankowski and Ernst Joubert are more evenly matched in terms of size, with the former boasting better game-breaking abilities, while the latter’s direct game is far more polished. It’s going to be a tough one to call here, but I feel that the Sharks’ inclusion of the in-form Keegan Daniel on the bench adds far more than the Lions can hope to counter with Justin Wheeler. Sharks loosies to get stuck in behind a rampant tight five and ensure that Joubert and cronies stay on the back foot.
I find it somewhat ironic that the Lions consider Frederic Michalak’s “temperamental genius” a potential benefit to them. Michalak can blow hot and cold, sure, but it’s the Lions themselves who have potentially the biggest liability in flyhalf Earl Rose. Let’s not forget that Rose turned in such diabolical performances during this year’s Super 14 that a certain Kiwi commentator wondered out loud whether he’d been paid by the opposition to play so badly. Janno Vermaak is a good scrumhalf, but his discipline lets him down sometimes, while Doppies le Grange is prone to bouts of dodgy handling and even worse defence. You really think that backline axis stands much of a chance against Ruan Pienaar, Michalak and Frans Steyn? I don’t…
Adi Jacobs and Jacque Fourie are likely to cancel each other out in midfield, with the Sharks man in red-hot form, although his Lions counterpart boasts far more international experience and is truly the only real star in the Lions team. Out wide, it’s again the Sharks who have the upper hand, with Bok wingers JP Pietersen and Odwa Ndungane likely to have too much in the tank for the likes of Michael Killian and Trompie Nontshinga to contain. Stefan Terblanche has been playing rugby since before Louis Ludick’s was born as well and has already forgotten more than the youngster has learned about fullback play.
Casting an eye over the backline reserves, you have a trio of up-and-coming stars in Rory Kockott, Brad Barritt and Waylon Murray on the one side, while the other boasts yet more journeymen in Chris Jonck, Louis Strydom and Rayno “the Dealer” Benjamin. The best chance the Lions have of taking this one is if they can persuade the latter to hand out free samples in the Sharks dressing room before the game.
Sorry, Lions, but you don’t stand a chance.Tweet