Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The Kings in urgent catch-up mode, the Lions possibly influenced a tad in playing style by thoughts of protecting their first-leg advantage ... it will be fascinating to see the strategic approach of both teams in the decisive Super Rugby promotion/relegation encounter at Ellis Park on Saturday (17:00).
There is fairly widespread agreement that despite the Lions being favourites based on their successful raid in Port Elizabeth last weekend, this make-or-break brace of showdowns could yet go right to the wire.
Some hope for tourney-proper incumbents the Kings, after all, is having managed to snaffle a losing bonus point from Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, so a fired-up, dramatic turnaround performance for their departing director of rugby Alan Solomons simply cannot be ruled out.
Here are some individual match-ups that could be very influential ...Elton Jantjies (Lions) v George Whitehead (Kings)
No Demetri Catrakilis at flyhalf for the Kings this week, so they’ve surrendered their trusty points-plunderer. But if you use the argument that the visitors may need more than just reliability off the tee to make up the PE first-leg shortfall, and thus a try-conscious mindset, perhaps the infusion of slightly bigger unit Whitehead – a reliable, utility-value pro – to No 10 isn’t the worst thing in the world for them if they’re looking to probe the advantage line a lot more. Of course the Lions have a more settled look in the slot from the first meeting, given Jantjies’s classy showing in his “revisit” game back in beloved red and white. He tends to place-kick well at Ellis Park, and if those subtle hand skills of his come into the equation quickly as well, the Kings’ challenge on Saturday may just be snuffed out long before the final whistle. It seems Whitehead will be spared goal-kicking responsibility; rookie wing Scott van Breda is earmarked for that and it’s a pretty big ask for the 21-year-old in a hostile cauldron. Dylan des Fountain (Lions) v Waylon Murray (Kings)
If one team is particularly looking for “go forward” and the other is subconsciously mindful of not wanting to leak too much in the try column given their nose-in-front status in the mini series, then the inside centre channel is an important one either way. Two relative journeymen of first-class rugby, ex-Stormers/WP man Des Fountain and former Sharks stalwart Murray (a sub last week), wear No 12 here. At a stout 105kg and 1.90m, four-cap Springbok Murray has a physical edge over his Lions immediate rival, but Des Fountain also comes armed with good knowledge of his foe because of prior spells together in the Jo’burg fold. These players have both fought back pluckily from long-term injury setbacks at different times, so ought to relish this opportunity to strut their stuff in front of a rare gate of 50 000-plus. Warren Whiteley (Lions) v Jacques Engelbrecht (Kings)
Wiry Whiteley against Wrecking Ball Engelbrecht ... apologies if it sounds like a dollop of Don King-orchestrated boxing rah-rah. But that also probably sums up this contrasting duel among the No 8s. The Durban-born Lions player’s big strength is his mobility and penchant for clever, snaking offensive runs in open play – as evidenced by his experience of Sevens rugby for the Blitzbokke. Up against him is the bigger, aptly-nicknamed “Vleis” Engelbrecht, who brings explosive running of a more direct kind: he is more than happy to play pinball with unsuspecting front-on defenders. But for the blond marauder to really come into the game and provide precious momentum for the Kings, he will need a stronger front-foot template than last week from his side’s front five. As with so many others from the PE franchise, this may well be Engelbrecht’s swansong; he is reportedly headed for Bulls country ... JC Janse van Rensburg (Lions) v Kevin Buys (Kings)
The Lions generally bossed the important platform of the scrums at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium; it went some way to ensuring their supremacy on the scoreboard. So the Kings really need to front up more forcefully on this occasion if they are to work that desperately-required turnaround. It’s “old pals act” part two in the boiler room on Saturday evening, as eternally impressive Lions skipper Van Rensburg, so assured at loosehead in PE, gets to grips anew with former Ellis Park ally Kevin Buys, the Kings’ chunky, Benoni-born tighthead. Most neutrals probably tip Van Rensburg (soon regrettably Bayonne-bound) to suppress Buys’s right-shoulder bids all over again. But give the Kings anchor his due: his engine keeps going.Teams:
15. Ruan Combrinck, 14. Deon Helberg, 13. Stokkies Hanekom, 12. Dylan Des Fountain, 11. Anthony Volmink, 10. Elton Jantjies, 9. Ross Cronje, 8. Warren Whiteley, 7. Derick Minnie, 6. Jaco Kriel, 5. Franco van der Merwe, 4. Hendrik Roodt, 3. Julian Redelinghuys, 2. Martin Bezuidenhout, 1. JC Janse van Rensburg
Substitutes: 16. Robbie Coetzee, 17. Ruan Dreyer, 18. Willie Britz, 19. Warwick Tecklenburg, 20. Guy Cronje, 21. Marnitz Boshoff, 22. Chrysander BothaKings:
15. SP Marais, 14. Hadleigh Parkes, 13. Ronnie Cooke, 12. Waylon Murray, 11. Scott van Breda, 10. George Whitehead, 9. Shaun Venter, 8. Jacques Engelbrecht, 7. Wimpie van der Walt, 6. David Bulbring, 5. Darron Nell (captain), 4. Cornell du Preez, 3. Kevin Buys, 2. Bandise Maku, 1. Schalk Ferreira
Substitutes: 16. Charl du Plessis, 17. Hannes Franklin, 18. Steven Sykes, 19. Devin Oosthuizen, 20. Nicolas Vergallo, 21. Wesley Dunlop, 22. Shane Gates *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing