Cape Town – Can the inactive Israel Folau hold off three hungry Lions for just one more week?
Waratahs utility back Folau, a long-time star of Super Rugby, leads the top try-scorer category for this year’s competition with 11, but of course he continues to have no further interest with just Saturday’s showpiece between the Hurricanes and Lions in Wellington to come.
A trio of Lions players, however, all have decent potential to either haul in or overtake him in those remaining 80 minutes of 2016 combat at the “Cake Tin”: Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Courtnall Skosan (10) and even Lionel Mapoe one shot off that pace on nine.
Despite the cranked-up pressures associated with a final, it is unlikely that either the ‘Canes or Lions will suddenly abandon in any meaningful way their natural attacking instincts: the visitors lead the way for team tries registered in Super Rugby this season (81), with the Hurricanes lying third on 70; the now-eliminated Chiefs are in between on 76.
Johan Ackermann’s sprightly charges, for instance, notched five tries against the Crusaders and a further five against the Highlanders in their successful respective quarter-final and semi-final assignments, showing that knockout play hardly gags their crowd-pleasing intentions.
Last weekend’s semi saw both bustling centre Janse van Rensburg and elusive left wing Skosan earn touch-downs -- an exact repeat of their fortunes the previous week at Emirates Airline Park against the ‘Saders.
Win or lose for the Lions in the final, there could be tries aplenty, especially if conditions at the notoriously windy venue play ball, and that gives all three of the contending, in-form Lions “sharpshooters” a chance to topple Folau from his perch.
South Africa has not boasted the top single individual try-scorer in Super Rugby since the 2012 season, when the Bulls’ Bjorn Basson shared the mantle on 10 each with Andre Taylor of the Hurricanes.
Last year the top poacher was Waisake Naholo of the title-winning Highlanders (13), in 2014 Folau and the Crusaders’ Nemani Nadolo shared the honour (12) and in 2013 the top gun was Frank Halai of the Blues (10).
The laurel for most tries in any season (15) is shared between Joe Roff (Brumbies, 1997) and Rico Gear (Crusaders, 2005).
It would require an unlikely final hat-trick from either of Janse van Rensburg or Skosan to draw level with James Small of the Natal Sharks (1996) for most tries in a single season by a South African (13).
*Only one South African, Bryan Habana (Bulls, Stormers) is among the top 10 for career tries in Super Rugby – Blues legend Dougie Howlett leads the way with 59 and Habana lies joint-fourth on 56 with Stirling Mortlock and Christian Cullen.
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