So, in a year where the SA Super Rugby teams have so much to win, and so very much to lose should they have a nightmare season, the two perrenial bottom dwellers of the South African teams square up in the first round of games.
The Lions are riding on the crest of the Currie Cup wave, whilst the Cheetahs will take great heart from some truly stellar performances during the 2011 Super Rugby campaign.
Lets take a look at what we can expect in this the first CAT FIGHT of the season, as well as a look at the player – player match ups.
1. Trevor Nyakane
2. Adriaan Strauss (Captain)
3. WP Nel
4. Andriess Ferreira
5. Izak van der Westhuizen
6. Heinrich Brussow
7. Lappies Labuschagne (Phillip van der Walt)
8. Davon Raubenheimer
9. Tewis de Bruyn
10. Johan Goosen
11. Rocco Jansen
12. Andries Strauss
13. Robert Ebersohn
14. Dusty Noble
15. Hennie Daniller
1. JC Janse van Rensburg
2. Callie Visagie
3. Pat Cilliers
4. Wikus van Heerden (Hendrik Roodt)
5. Franco van der Merwe
6. Cobus Grobbelaar
7. Derick Minnie
8. Joshua Strauss (Captain)
9. Michael Bondesio
10. Elton Jantjies
11. James Kamana
12. Doppies la Grange
13. Alwyn Hollenbach
14. Deon van Rensburg
15. Jaco Taute
At first glance, it looks as if the Cheetahs brains trust have pulled a few surprises in their team selection, with Ashley Johnson only on the bench, and a number of lesser known players in the starting 15.
For the Lions, John Mitchell has, for the most part gone with the tried and trusted from the 2011 Currie Cup campaign.
With the Cheetahs traditionally offering a fast paced game with the ball receiving a lot of air, and attacking flair from deep, coupled with the type of fast paced game the Lions played last season with backs and forwards linking togethor, we can expect an exciting and open game.
Having said that, it does not necessarily follow that there will be heaps of tries. True, the Cheetahs gave the Lions a truckload of points in one of the games in 2011, but since then the Lions defence has become something which is infinetly more leakproof, and I think the Cheetahs will struggle to breach the home teams try line enough times to secure a bonus point.
All in all, I think it will be the game of the weekend, particullary for the supporters of other teams. Entertaining, hard, fast, and a game that both teams ABSOLUTELY need to win.
PLATER MATCH UPS
Van Rensburg, Visagie and Cilliers v Nyakane, Strauss and Nel
Cilliers will give the young but promising Nyakane a hard time. He (Cilliers) has developed into a very competent Tighthead, while Nyakane, despite some very promising performance last year is still very inexperienced.
Strauss has to be one of the unluckiest hookers in SA. I rate him very highly but unfortunately he has to compete against a horde of quality players for higher honours. He would surely have walked into MANY other National teams. I expect him to give the young Visagie a hard time in the opening 20 – 30 minutes, but expect that as he settles into the game Visagie will have a better second half.
Van Rensburg v Nel is an interesting match up. Initial thoughts are that WP Nel could really climb into Van Rensburg, but as I sit and think about it, the more I realise that JC has also improved in leaps and bounds over the last 18 months. WP Nel tends to blow hot and cold, and depending on the referree on the day, may well come in for some close scrutiny for his scrummaging technique.
Al in all, the FRONT ROWS match up quite well, with possibly the Cheetahs having a SLIGHT edge. Expect a ding dong battle in the “Dark Side” that is the front row.
Van Heerden (Roodt) & Van der Merwe v Ferreira & Van der Westhuizen
Van der Merwe is already a veteran Super Rugby player, and I expect him to have a great game. Much for the Lions will depend on whether van Heerden is declared fit or not. If not, the young and inexperienced Roodt will deputise which will be a blow for the Lions.
The Cheetahs locks will be dependable on their own ball, and all in all I expect the line outs to go very much with the throw.
The difference may well be the work that the Lions second rowers do with ball in hand.
Grobbellaar, Minnie & Strauss v Brossow, Labuschagne (Van der Walt) & Raubenheimer
I read this match up as Grobbellar AND Minnie v Brossow. Mouthwatering is the word I would use to describe this match up.
Brossow is arguably the best openside flanker in South Africa, and will need to be kept quiet if the Lions hope to get enough fast recycled ball to carry this game.
Having said that, Minnie proved in the Currie Cup that not only is he a massively strong ball carrier, but that he is also HIGHLY EFFECTIVE winner of the ball on the ground, and linked with “Baywatch” as a pair of “hunting dogs” expect fireworks.
Strauss v Raubenheimer is, in my opinion a mismatch of massive proportions. Despite the fact that the Cheetah No 8 is a Springbok, Strauss has proven himself to be a quality No 8, and frankly, I don’t think Devon Raubenheimer will be able to subdue the Lions talismatic Captain.
Irrespective of whether Lappies or vd Walt start, I expect it to be a close contest, but have a feeling that as a unit, the Lions Loose Trio just seem to me to be a more complete unit.
SCRUMHALF / FLYHALF
Bondesio & Jantjies v De Bruyn & Goosen
In my opinion, Bondesio is a far better Halfback than Tewis de Bruyn, and I think it will show.
Jantjies v Goosen is indeed an interesting match up. Goosen is known for his booming boot, whilst Jantjies is known as a hard working distributor of the ball who’s not afraid to tackle. Let’s not forget though, that Jantjies place kicking is also deadly providing he doesn’t have to kick it more than 40 metres.
All in all, I would JUST give the Lions pivot the edge, but only just. 2 VERY talented youngsters on the world stage.
La Grange & Hollenbach v Strauss & Ebersohn
Another close match up.
In my mind, La Grange over Strauss, and Hollenbach v Ebersohn a dead heat.
La Grange carries strongly and with his wrestling background and upper body strength operates almost like a 4th loosie on the ground. Strauss will just be yard off the pace of the Lions Vice Captain.
Hollenbach had a great Currie Cup, and showed that he has the class to match up to any centre in the country, whist Ebersohn too is a player of the highest quality. Both players carry the ball strongly, with the Lions player perhaps favouring a more direct route. Who can forget the way that he put Schalk Burger on his rear end in the Currie Cup semi-final. That moment epitomized the character of Alwyn Hollenbach.
Ebersohn on the other hand is a far more elusive runner with ball in hand, and will need to be closely watched and shut down if the Lions are to take the spoils in this game.
Kamana, Van Rensburg & Taute v Jansen, Noble & Daniller
The Cheetahs back three make me think of a 1982, 3,0 litre Ford Granada that’s been stuck in an old ladies garage for 25 years with only 5000 km’s on the clock. Reliable, boring, not too fast.
Jansen is dependable with ball in hand if nothing else, but in my opinion has some defensive deficiencies. Noble is, well, Dusty Noble. (Like 1 1976 Ford Escort?) and Danillar is something of an enigma. One game great, one game mediocre.
The Lions back three are, well I guess a bit better, if not being world beaters.
Kamana is always exciting with ball in hand, but doesn’t fill me with a warm fuzzy feeling on defense. Van Rensburg surprised many people last season with strong performances both on attack and defence. While he isn’t endowed with the blistering pace many think a Super Rugby wing needs, his support play and running lines compensate somewhat for this lack of speed.
And then we have Jaco Taute. ALWAYS crosses the advantage line with ball in hand. SAFE under the high ball. BLISTERINGLY quick, and endowed with a big boot that the Lions started to utilise towards the end of the Currie Cup.
16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. CJ van der Linde, 18. Hendrik Roodt (Stefan Greeff), 19. Warren Whiteley, 20. Tian Meyer, 21. Butch James, 22. Michael Killian v 16. Hercu Liebenberg, 17. Lourens Adriaanse, 18. Waltie Vermeulen, 19. Ashley Johnson, 20. Piet van Zyl, 21. Sias Ebersohn, 22. Willie Le Roux
My opinion is that the Lions’ bench is overall stronger than the Cheetahs’ bench. CJ, Warren Whitely, Butch James and Michael Killian are all quality players, and while Ashley Johnson stands out on the Free Stater’s bench the rest, apart maybe for Sias Ebersohn are relatively inexperienced at Super Rugby level.
All in all, an intriguing match up of players, and indeed TEAMS.
My pick is the Lions by >8, but hey, I have red tinted contact lenses.