JOHANNESBURG – A good ol’ fashioned forwards battle awaits the Emirates Lions when they host the Free State Cheetahs today (kick-off 4.30pm), but that might not be the most exciting dogfight on the field. No, it is the backline skirmish in Johannesburg which might offer up some tasty treats.
Waiting in the wings: Rabz Maxwane and Jamba Ulengo v Rosko Specman and Malcolm Jaer
The Cheetahs’ wings are on fire. Jaer and Specman have scored three tries apiece in their two games, collecting six of the nine tries scored by the Bloemfontein-based team. Together, they have run their opposition ragged, tallying up 356m carried.
They face a Lions pair in Ulengo and Maxwane that have scored a try apiece, with their former teammate Maxwane taking on the opposition with four clean breaks and 116m carried. Add to that the pace they possess – especially Specman and Maxwane – and if you blink, you might just miss it.
Stuck in the middle: Dan Kriel and Wandisile Simelane v Frans Steyn and Benhard Janse van Rensburg
One name stands head and shoulders above the rest in the midfield Frans Steyn.
The absolute unit of an inside-centre has been immense for the Cheetahs thus far, taking on the gain line with 15 carries and beating eight defenders, while his experience and big boot is the stuff of nightmares if you are the opposition.
Luckily, and despite losing Burger Odendaal this past week, the Joburg team have the just as hefty Kriel as his opposite. Outside of the Lions captain, Simelane might not be the biggest man on the pitch, but what he lacks in weight, he more than makes up in reach as he has some toe on him that can outrun any defender.
Halfway there: Morne van den Berg and Gianni Lombard v Tian Meyer and Tian Schoeman
Sure, losing Elton Jantjies is a blow to the aspirations of the Lions but don’t write off the half-back pairing that the team will field against the Cheetahs. Van den Berg is enjoying a purple patch and together with No 10 Lombard, will have to find a quick-working rapport if they are to marshal their forwards and get their backline moving. It is an exciting combination, a future endeavour that can pay dividends today – if it clicks. They face an experienced Tian-duo who has been there, seen that, and signed the T-shirt.
It is a case of rookies v veterans and the younglings v grand masters, and it could well be the defining battle of the match.
Emirates Lions Starting XV: EW Viljoen, Jamba Ulengo, Wandisile Simelane, Dan Kriel (captain), Rabz Maxwane, Gianni Lombard, Morné van den Berg, Len Massyn, Vincent Tshituka, MJ Pelser, Marvin Orie, Ruben Schoeman, Carlu Sadie, Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole; Replacements: PJ Botha, Nathan McBeth, Jannie du Plessis, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Marnus Schoeman, Ross Cronje, Stean Pienaar, Tiaan Swanepoel
Cheetahs Starting XV: Clayton Blommetjies, Malcolm Jaer, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Frans Steyn, Rosko Specman, Tian Schoeman, Tian Meyer, Jasper Wiese, Junior Pokomela (capt), Andisa Ntsila, Walt Steenkamp, Carl Wegner, Luan de Bruin, Reinach Venter, Charles Marais; Replacements: Jacques du Toit, Boan Venter, Erich de Jager, JP du Preez, Aidon Davis, Chris Massyn, Ruben de Haas, William Small-Smith.