Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The Super Rugby encounter between arch-rivals the Bulls and Lions on Saturday evening may well be decided by some reasonably traditional match-winners.
Just for example, respective Springbok flyhalves Handre Pollard and Elton Jantjies sport different styles of play but know their franchise systems backwards by now; the accuracy of their kicking at the posts could be decisive, too, if this becomes a typically grinding, tense all-South African affair.
But there is almost as much likelihood that other positions on the park will be influential in the outcome between two teams buoyed by pretty high-class victories last Saturday …
Thembelani Bholi v Franco Mostert
Here’s a contest you might not automatically have expected to see at blindside flank between these teams shortly before the 2018 campaign began.
Bholi is one of those slightly under-hyped players who has clearly been shrewdly identified by Bulls head coach John Mitchell as someone who can fit into his new, slightly more urgent and up-tempo playing style at Loftus.
The East London-born, former Kings marauder doesn’t tip the scales that impressively but he is tall and rangy and puts a lot of “ticker” into his rugby; he earned warm applause as he came off at an advanced stage of the fabulous, season-opening triumph for the hosts over the Hurricanes last weekend.
Now he will be tantalisingly examined all over again as the Lions have produced a small curveball by switching yeoman lock Franco Mostert to No 7, a reshuffle at least partly forced by Kwagga Smith being unavailable for their loosie plans this weekend.
It is a spot some pundits feel Mostert is ideally suited to, as he does come in a few kilos shy of certain other bruisers in SA second-row play, and his build seems tailor-made for blindside, where he can still carry spiritedly and hit rucks hard.
Easier said than done, of course … how quickly he adapts could be vital on Saturday.
RG Snyman v Andries Ferreira
That tallest of trees (well, very nearly) in the rugby forest, Snyman was probably the standout figure in the unexpected, but stirring dismantling of the Hurricanes.
He combined some thrilling gallops in open play with a no-nonsense approach (alongside lock-mate Lood de Jager) at closer quarters – a strong signal that he will increasingly challenge for national honours in the new Rassie Erasmus regime at either four or five, really.
Snyman stays in the “front” role for the derby, where he comes up against a very specialist No 4, the Lions’ hefty but hard-grafting Ferreira.
While less likely to be seen thundering free from traffic, the 120kg, Affies-educated specimen is an integral part of the Lions’ rolling mauls and strong collective scrummaging and doesn’t get barged off his lineout ball too easily …
Burger Odendaal v Rohan Janse van Rensburg
For the first time this season, as they enter their own round three, the Lions have installed beefy Janse van Rensburg to the inside centre berth.
It comes at the expense of the leaner, more elusive schemer Harold Vorster who dips down to the bench at Loftus.
But the incoming player should assume his midfield partnership with Lionel Mapoe quite seamlessly, considering how well they know each other’s play.
Bulls captain Odendaal is no shrinking violet physically at No 12 for them, so that probably played a role in Swys de Bruin’s decision to return to Big Rohan – who must, nevertheless, still convince a few critics that he has some peripheral sense, zip to his passing and generally more subtle qualities to go with his brawn, and associated ability to smash through defences.
Travis Ismaiel v Aphiwe Dyantyi
I was quite impressed with the relish and work-rate, especially in a defensive capacity, of the big unit Ismaiel last weekend, where he helped in no small measure to repel various, dangerous ‘Canes raiders.
The SA ‘A’ winger may be just another player now cranking up a notch with the major push by Mitchell to make the Bulls more fluid, patient and less predictable.
But boy, will he need his wits about him on Saturday: he must police one of the sensations of the fledgling Super Rugby season – the Lions’ electric little flier Dyantyi who was seemingly standing in for Courtnall Skosan but may now make it very difficult to accommodate him when he is fit.
Dyantyi would not be advised to go at Ismaiel too “directly” when he has the opportunity, but expect him to test his marker with his delightful stepping, cheeky grubbers and blinding turn of pace from a near-standing start.
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