Key match-ups

2014-10-18 00:00

The knockout stage of the Currie Cup kicks off this afternoon as the Lions host the Sharks at Ellis Park.

Having beaten the hosts two weeks ago, the Sharks are optimistic going into the first semi-final of the afternoon.

On paper, the match promises to be a scintillating affair, with two potent sides battling for a spot in the final. Here is a look at four key match-ups that could be crucial in determining the fate of the treasured trophy

Lwazi Mvovo

The Springbok wing was unlucky

to be overlooked for the Rugby Championship but his curse became the Sharks blessing. Mvovo started the past four matches after being

released from the Boks and brought a wealth of experience with some

exciting contributions on attack. His ability to turn the smallest space into try-scoring opportunities makes him dangerous. The Lions may kick for territory and give Mvovo a chance

to create some magic on the counter.

Ruan Combrinck

The Michaelhouse old boy has been one of the Lions’s most consistent performers throughout the Super Rugby and the Currie Cup. His size and speed make him a handful for smaller wings on defence and he

is a great option to cover fullback with his ability to kick. Combrinck

will have to guide fullback Jaco van der Walt, who usually plays fly half, although the latter is no stranger to the position. He will also be wary

of Mvovo.

AndrÉ Esterhuizen

Make no mistake, Esterhuizen is

a star of the future and has proved this in his debut Currie Cup campaign. Although far from a complete player, he exhibits strengths that many centres dream of.

On attack he has been one of the most powerful backline runners. He lines up against Howard Mnisi, who is a bit smaller, but packs a punch. The Sharks are likely to use Esterhuizen as a first-phase runner to penetrate between Marnitz Boshoff and Mnisi.

Howard Mnisi

The Lions have chosen Mnisi to fill the void left by the injured Stokkies Hanekom. Mnisi was impressive in

the Varsity Cup last year and enjoyed a solid year at Griquas thereafter.

He joined the Lions this year and has had to wait for a starting berth. His strength on his feet is a big feature of his game and he is a powerful strike runner. His height also helps him on defence as he is able to chop down taller opponents. Esterhuizen has a considerable size advantage.

Cobus Reinach

The Sharks scrumhalf got a well-earned Springbok call-up that culminated in two Test matches off the bench in the Rugby Championship.

He has carried good form from Super Rugby into the Rugby Championships and the Currie Cup, although he didn’t quite click with Lionel Cronje last weekend. With an extra week

in Durban, the pair will have settled. Reinach will be a huge threat and his speed and ability to snipe will keep the Lions honest around the fringes.

Ross Cronje

The other Michaelhouse old boy in the Lions set-up, Cronje has improved his game considerably from Super Rugby. This could be due to an extended starting opportunity, but he has taken it with both hands. Cronje has a strong partnership with Boshoff and a good understanding of when to pass or kick. On attack, he shows a clean pair of heels and doesn’t shy away from a snipe in the face of opposition. He has gained plenty of experience in the past two years.

Tera Mtembu

The Sharks captain has proved many a pundit wrong with a string of man- of-the-match performances in the Currie Cup. He does not let the weight of captaincy take away from his all-round game and is a leader by example. He is a dynamic No 8 and pops up all over the field on attack. On defence, he tackles well and is dangerous when trying to steal ball on the ground. His team-mates have rallied around him and the Sharks seem to be a tight-knit unit.

Warren Whiteley

Whiteley has been a talisman for his side and his newly elevated status to Springbok adds to his impressive CV. Having played superb rugby for the Blitzbokke, Whiteley has been as good in the 15-man code, earning him a Bok call-up and his first two caps in the Rugby Championship. He will be huge for the Lions, with his exceptional speed on attack. He is an excellent line-out jumper. Whiteley will be watching Mtembu closely and the two are sure to bump heads.

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