LIVE

    Lions v Sharks: 'Eight-point swing' game

    2018-02-15 19:17

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - The very fact that it comes on day one of Super Rugby 2018 shapes up as a potential ally for the Sharks in their quest for a smash-and-grab at Emirates Airline Park on Saturday (17:15 kick-off).

    Make no mistake, their visit to last season's runners-up the Lions is a massive clash, considering the extent of the belief among domestic pundits, it seems, that these two will be the main challengers for SA conference-winning status.

    There may be murmurs of dissent on that note from Newlands and vicinity, but the Stormers are already labouring under the weight of injuries to core players which may have helped sway conviction that Johannesburg or Durban will boast the supreme outfit at the conclusion of ordinary season on July 14 (when the Capetonians, incidentally, have a bye).

    So if we are instead looking at a tense, two-horse race for group bragging rights - with respect to the Bulls and Jaguares, they are particularly unlikely winners - then both this Saturday and the return meeting at Kings Park on June 30 could be extremely pivotal occasions.

    Put it is this way: if either team manages to win both derbies, the swing in log points terms will be enormous, and highly likely to be decisive.

    The sensible approach - though "sense" doesn’t unfailingly prevail in sport - might be to anticipate the Lions edging this weekend's opener, and the Sharks levelling things up bilaterally in Durban, so we'd be back not very much the wiser about who will top the SA table.

    In the Sharks' favour, I believe, is the start-of-season scheduling of the first tussle: if they are found to have done their pre-season training, game-time and strategic homework more smartly, they have an inviting chance to catch their hosts "cold" in a game, let's face it, that the Lions are under greater pressure to prevail in.

    Both coaches, Swys de Bruin and Robert du Preez, have made some interesting, slightly off-beat selections for their starting line-ups for round one, which only adds to any sense that this one is a near-lottery in win prediction terms.

    SEE: Super Rugby - Weekend teams

    Personally, I was leaning a little toward a mild Sharks upset earlier in the week; closer perusal of the teams named on Thursday just coaxes me back to believing the Lions will weather the onslaught.

    Here are a few appealing direct positional battles, however, that could have a big say in the outcome:

    Sylvian Mahuza (Lions) v Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks)

    A true clash of predators on the wing; look too deeply into your beer or biltong and you might miss a 30-metre, swerving breakout by either whippet. This is Sharks left wing Mapimpi's Super Rugby debut for his new employers; versatile marker Mahuza might have his hands full defensively but he is also an enthralling ball-in-hand man.

    Harold Vorster (Lions) v Andre Esterhuizen (Sharks)

    The cerebral Vorster getting the Lions' inside-centre nod ahead of beefier Rohan Janse van Rensburg suggests the hosts plan to use stealth and cunning more than brawn at times to outfox the Sharks. But Vorster’s defensive resolve will be tested by the Sharks' extremely direct No 12 bruiser Andre Esterhuizen.

    Elton Jantjies (Lions) v Robert du Preez (Sharks)

    Lions fans will be praying their long-time talisman at flyhalf, Jantjies, doesn't pick up an injury early on, as alternatives at No 10 are in short supply with this match-day squad. But if he goes the distance, expect an engrossing scrap with opposite number and ex-WP dynamo Du Preez, who has the potential to become something of a "new Henry Honiball" in that channel for the Sharks. 

    Warren Whiteley (Lions) v Keegan Daniel (Sharks)

    Well, the big positive in the Lions camp, now stripped of the head coaching services of Johan Ackermann, is the return to fitness after a long layoff of their treasured leader and fulcrum player Whiteley. A mobile and rangy No 8, the Sharks combat those qualities by pitting the veteran, speedy utility loosie Daniel against him, leaving big Dan du Preez a little surprisingly geared for an impact presence later on.

    Malcolm Marx (Lions) v Franco Marais (Sharks)

    Not much more needs to be said about the booming qualities of No 2 muscle-man Marx, now right up among the top two or three hookers in world rugby. If he gets straight into his stride in the season opener, the Lions will automatically get some major go-forward. But all direct rivals in South Africa will increasingly want to score points against the heavyweight, and the workmanlike Marais presumably no exception.

    Jacques van Rooyen (Lions) v Thomas du Toit (Sharks)

    Still deeply ruing the loss of Coenie Oosthuizen to long-term injury, the Sharks have dragged their "Tank Engine" (not dissimilar in body shape or mass, mind) back across to the thorny tighthead spot. If he cuts it there, it will see the Sharks' chances of a rosy 2018 soar. But Van Rooyen is hardly a shrinking violet in the Lions' No 1 jersey, so expect no special charity at scrum-time.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

    Read More On:  lions sharks super rugby rugby

    What To Read Next

    Read News24’s Comments Policy

    Live Video Streaming
    Video Highlights
    Sport Talk

    Results

    04 August 2018
    28 July 2018
    21 July 2018
    20 July 2018
    14 July 2018
    13 July 2018
    07 July 2018
    06 July 2018
    30 June 2018
    29 June 2018
    03 June 2018
    02 June 2018
    01 June 2018
    26 May 2018
    25 May 2018
    19 May 2018
    18 May 2018
    12 May 2018
    11 May 2018
    05 May 2018
    04 May 2018
    28 April 2018
    27 April 2018
    22 April 2018
    21 April 2018
    20 April 2018
    14 April 2018
    13 April 2018
    07 April 2018
    06 April 2018
    01 April 2018
    31 March 2018
    30 March 2018
    24 March 2018
    23 March 2018
    18 March 2018
    17 March 2018
    16 March 2018
    10 March 2018
    09 March 2018
    03 March 2018
    02 March 2018
    24 February 2018
    23 February 2018
    17 February 2018

    Logs

    Rank Team P W Pts
    • Lions (Q)
    • Jaguares (wc)
    • Sharks (wc)
    • Stormers
    • Bulls

    Opinion Poll

    Who will win the 2018 Rugby Championships?

    Can you name the top Super Rugby tryscorers of all-time?

    TAKE THE QUIZ
    There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.