The key to victory at Ellis Park
IN THE SUPER RUGBY SPOTLIGHT: Jan de Koning looks at three positions that hold the key to victory when the Lions and Sharks go head-to-head at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann attempted to downplay the importance of the Round Six encounter and suggested that not too much should be read into the game.
"There are still plenty of games ahead and we still have to go tour," Ackermann told rugby365, when asked about his team's season so far - which have yielded four wins from five outings and see them at the top of the Africa Two conference.
He said the Sharks are a team in good form, but was happy that the Lions still have their destiny in their own hands.
"We are grateful that it is going well and we have not slipped in too many games, but not too much should be read into this coming weekend's game."
Ackermann was also full of praise for the opposition, describing the Sharks as a physical and well-rounded team - with a pack of large forwards and good backline - despite Bok Springbok flyhalf Patrick Lambie's injury.
Despite Ackermann's diplomatic responses, there is no doubt the importance of the game - given that just two points separate the Lions (19 points from five matches), Jaguares (18 from five) and Sharks (17 from five) in the Africa Two conference.
While coaches will always fall back on cliches like discipline, possession and limiting errors, this game may well be won or lost in the crucial axis of scrumhalf, flyhalf and inside centre.
And to add spice to an already delectable contest, there is a healthy serving of Springbok flavour to this game.
At No.9, discarded Bok Francois de Klerk will have something to prove after being replaced by Sharks counterpart Cobus Reinach in the squad named earlier this week.
At flyhalf, there is Elton Jantjies, a stalwart for the Lions, against teenager Curwin Bosch, who was one of the rookies named in Allister Coetzee's Bok training squad this week.
And the most intriguing is the midfield battle between two of the most bruising centres - Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Andre Esterhuizen.
The Lions have the edge in terms of experience and the fact that they have the most settled axis (scrumhalf, flyhalf and inside centre).
But a closer look at the six players' statistics in the first five rounds of the competition suggests it is a tight race and certainly worth paying good money to see these skilful players go head to head.
They certainly hold the key to victory on Saturday.
Here are their head-to-head stats through the first five rounds of the competition!
Scrumhalf: Francois de Klerk versus Cobus Reinach:
Francois de Klerk (five matches played):
Seventeen carries for 69 metres; two turnovers conceded; two defenders beaten; one clean break; seven tackles made; five tackles missed
Cobus Reinach (five matches played):
Twenty-seven carries for 90 metres; 11 turnovers conceded; four defenders beaten; 16 tackles made; seven tackles missed
Flyhalf: Elton Jantjies versus Curwin Bosch:
Elton Jantjies (four matches played)"
Twenty-five carries for 60 metres; six turnovers conceded; four defenders beaten; two clean breaks; 19 tackles made; eight tackles missed
Curwin Bosch (four matches played):
Twenty carries for 76 metres; five turnovers conceded; three defenders beaten; one clean break; six tackles made; four tackles missed
* His stats also include those matches when he played at fullback
Inside centre: Rohan Janse van Rensburg versus Andre Esterhuizen:
Rohan Janse van Rensburg (four matches played):
Twenty-six carries for 216 metres; eight turnovers conceded; 15 defenders beaten; eight clean breaks; 16 tackles made; no tackles missed
Andre Esterhuizen (five matches played):
Forty-three carries for 113 metres; six turnovers conceded; 14 defenders beaten; 45 tackles made; nine tackles missed
By Jan de Koning