Final duels: Can Ruan rein in King Kieran?

    2017-08-04 11:45

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – He is a 100-cap All Black, and the national captain, and almost indisputably a prime candidate for the mantle of best rugby player in the world even as he taps gently on the door of twilight status.

    He is, of course, Kieran Read, and he will automatically be a key figure for the visiting Crusaders in Saturday’s Super Rugby final (16:00) against the Lions in Johannesburg.

    Up against him, in a script with certain noticeable traces of Hollywood in it, will be a strapping young man 10 years his junior – Ruan Ackermann – who is only serving the No 8 role in a caretaker capacity, but is the son of the highly-revered, outgoing coach of the host franchise.

    It is one of numerous positional tussles expected to enthral a capacity crowd at Emirates Airline Park.

    There are arguably certain more “glamorous” individual duels in the offing on Saturday, but I also have a gut feel certain less touted ones could tilt the balance too; here’s my selection …  

    Ruan Ackermann v Kieran Read

    Read has a sprawling rugby CV, something especially apparent when you realise he is the only starting survivor on Saturday from the last Crusaders team to win the title (their seventh) in the 2008 final against the Waratahs. Read was still an up-and-coming blindside flanker at the time, before his illuminating switch to eighthman, and that seems fairly apt when you consider that his direct opponent will be Ackermann – still considerably more at home on the side of the scrum himself but bravely filling the shoes at present of regular skipper Warren Whiteley. It seems relatively unlikely at this stage that Ackermann, not quite in Read’s league for linking play and handling skills, will eventually make a move to the back of the scrum too, but he is making a good temporary fist of the task. The one area where he should confidently match Read – a genuine “toughie” to go with his other attributes – in the final is for physical relish: he counters the New Zealand great’s 110kg and 1.93m with his own 108kg and identical height. Ackermann junior also appears no special respecter of reputations … 

    Jacques van Rooyen v Owen Franks

    He’s not exactly a “rock star” (well, few props are) in the broadly level-headed Lions’ ranks, but Van Rooyen is in possibly the form and confidence of his life as a barn-door front-ranker. The 30-year-old will also be the lone non-international amidst the two front rows on Saturday … although you wouldn’t think so if you witnessed his fiery all-round showing in the semi-final against the Hurricanes. Van Rooyen will know that he will need to bring his A-game all over again here; he goes into scrum-time combat with another legend of the All Black scene, Owen Franks. The tighthead is only six caps shy of matching ‘Saders colleague Read by reaching three figures in Test appearances, and remember that at 29 he is not exactly ready for pipe and slippers. Franks is integral to the proud Crusaders set-piece … but the Lions fancy theirs, too, and Van Rooyen is well capable of holding his own at No 1. (He will also have quietly noted that Franks had an Achilles problem in the semi against the Chiefs.) Expect the Lions to try to involve him in inspiring, barrelling charges again near the enemy try-line.  

    Harold Vorster v Ryan Crotty

    A few weeks ago, the 23-year-old Vorster would have been widely considered to be just warming the seat at inside centre for the return of chunky, direct Rohan Janse van Rensburg. Well, the Springbok is fit again and part of the extended Lions match-day mix for the showpiece … but not yet able to burst into the XV, such has been Vorster’s verve and confidence at No 12. He’s been running brilliant, defence-busting lines, using his qualities which place more emphasis on elusiveness, perhaps. It also means a little more of a clash of styles in his battle with the Crusaders’ stick of dynamite in the inner-midfield slot, Crotty. The Nelson-born combatant uses his strong shoulders and leg-drive to make dangerous yards, and is seldom a stranger to the opposition try-line; Vorster will have his hands full in a defensive capacity although he will also plan to wriggle past Crotty’s own reach as often as he can …    

    Andries Coetzee v David Havili

    Specialist fullback (Coetzee) against utility factor in the position (Havili): that’s the scenario for the No 15 duel in the final. The Springbok, like his youthful opposite number, is also adaptable to other berths in a backline but over the past couple of seasons has focused almost exclusively on the art of play in the last line of defence. Former builder’s apprentice Havili, however, still plays musical chairs at times – he is as comfortable in midfield. He is a silky part of the Crusaders’ total-rugby strategy when they are on the front foot, but may play second fiddle to Coetzee when it comes to range and authority in kicking out of hand … so often a critical matter in hard-surface, dry Highveld conditions. Coetzee also boasts the advantage of prior experience of a Super Rugby final, having been part of the Lions’ gutsy – yet unsuccessful – effort in the Cake Tin last season.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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