With both teams opening their 2017 Super Rugby campaigns with close victories, the Lions and the Waratahs will be looking to shake off the rust this week and announce that they are both genuine contenders for this years’ title.
The match will be played at Emirates Airlines Park in Johannesburg, thereby giving the Waratahs the more taxing travel schedule leading into the match with a long trip from Sydney relative to the Lions’ short hop from Bloemfontein. And there will be an altitude tax to be paid by the Waratahs slso.
Whilst the Waratahs had a clumsy start to the season against the Western Force last week, the conditions were atrocious for free-flowing rugby, and the Force proved that they are no schmucks following their formidable performance against the Reds last night.
As such, it’s hard to take too many pointers from that game, especially given the Force’s tendency to turn every Australian derby into an arm-wrestle of attrition.
Regardless, the Waratahs didn’t gel effectively, escpecially within the backline. Folau was non-existent, mirroring some of his recent Wallabies’ involvements, and the much-lauded rookie centre, Irae Simone, struggled to make an impression. This wasn’t helped by the absence of Bernard Foley, the pivotal Waratahs playmaker. Despite strong performances in the Waratahs’ pre-season trials, Bryce Hegarty failed to stamp his mark on the 10 jersey, and a lack of general leadership was evident.
The Lions likewise started their season shakily, with a mere three points separating the runners up of the 2016 competition and the Cheetahs, who won only four times last year. The Lions lacked zing as though they had too many November Springboks starting their pre-season late.
Faf de Klerk – dropped this week
The Waratahs have named an unchanged matchday team since flyhalf Bernard Foley struggled to pass a Thursday concussion test; Bryce Hegarty will sub for him again.
Lions’ coach Johan Ackerman has dropped two Springboks to the bench. Scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and hooker Malcolm Marx, who were both off-form last week, are replaced by Ross Cronje and Robbie Coetzee respectively. Promising outside centre Harold Voster subs for Howard Mnisi (knee injury).
Why should I bother?
Because its Round 2 and for an away game in South Africa its really not that late! At 12:05am on Sunday you can fulfill whatever social obligations you have for the night before parking yourself in front of a TV (whether its at the pub or at home) and watch some high quality rugby with the beverage of your choice.
Whilst rain is forecast, both sides have shown a willingness to run the ball over the last few seasons and both have the roster to beat any team on their day. The marker of a true champion team is the ability to be able to win on tour, away from home in South Africa and by the end of the game we will know if the Waratahs have the ability to do so against the top-seeded African team.
Elton Jantjies – should win the flyhalf battle
The flyhalves – Elton Jantjies had an electric season for the Lions in 2016, and flourished running their high tempo game. But it remains to be seen if he can come back to his 2016 Super Rugby form after being in a challenging Springbok environment in November.
If Jantjies is back to form Bryce Hegarty will have to step-up markedly from last weeks’ performance and provide better guidance for the Waratahs around the field than he did last week. The winner of this battle will be instrumental in the outcome of the game.
Openside battle – Hardman Jaco Kiel had a huge 2016 for the Lions, and this resulted in his first Springbok cap. He missed the Springbok tour with an injury but is raring to go now.
Michael Hooper is a different player by far, different from most open-siders in the world except Justin Tipuric. The contrast in styles will be full of interest.
Number 8 – El Capitano, Warren Whiteley, also had an immense 2016, for both club and country, and was instrumental in everything in the Lions achieved. Michael Wells, on the other hand, with only eight Super Rugby caps, is a skilful player of a similar mold. He is is a tireless linker without the experience of Whiteley but will suck up the experience.
Whilst a number of the Waratahs’ squad appear to be eager young players full of potential, this potential is yet to be fully realised and onlookers are unsure if they are the real deal.
When combined with the Lions’ terrific performance in 2016, a lack of major changes to their squad since their finals appearance, and the distance travelled by the Waratahs in the last week, plus the effect of the altitude, the Lions must be favourites.
Lions by 5
Backs: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronjé.
Forwards: 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Jacques Van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Sylvian Mahuza, 23 Jaco van der Walt.
Backs: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Nick Phipps.
Forwards: 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 David Lolohea, 19 David McDuling, 20 Senio Toleafoa, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro.
Date: Saturday, March 4
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 15:05 local (0:05 AEST Sunday)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Quinton Immelman (South Africa), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)