The Sharks vs Lions match kicks off Super Rugby Unlocked in Durban on Friday night in a match that will be heavily influenced by certain key matchups.
Here we look at the positional battles that might define the first match of the restarted season that actually counts for something.
Sharks vs Lions: Key matchups
Number Eight – Sikhumbuzo Notshe vs Len Massyn
Born: 28 May 1993 (age 27 years), King William’s Town
Height: 1,86 m
Weight: 101 kg
Born: 21 May 1997 (age 23 years), Pretoria
Height: 1,95 m
Weight: 106 kg
A battle of two mobile and dynamic number eights promises to be among the key matchups when the Sharks meet the Lions.
Notshe has the edge in experience, but in terms of skills and what they offer their side’s it is tough to seperate the two loose forwards.
Massyn is the larger of the two men and offers the Lions an additional lineout option against the shorter Sharks loose forwards. It would be surprising if the Lions didn’t opt for the long throw given the edge that the Sharks have in the lock department.
The two number eights are both able and skillfull ball carriers, with Massyn surprisingly nimble for a man of his size. The Lions’ eighthman is possessed of a step and the power to scythe through a defensive line.
Notshe beat 22 defenders in the seven Super Rugby matches before the pandemic forced the tournament to be called off and Sharks coach Sean Everitt will be hoping he can rediscover that form and give the home side some momentum.
Lock – Hyron Andrews vs Marvin Orie
Born: 6 July 1995 (age 25 years), Paarl
Height: 2,01 m
Weight: 108 kg
Born: 15 February 1993 (age 27 years), Cape Town
Height: 1,98 m
Weight: 110 kg
The battle between the Sharks senior lock Hyron Andrews and one of the leaders of the Lions pack Marvin Orie will go a long way towards determining how the lineouts and the breakdown proceed.
Orie gives up a few inches to Andrews but makes up for that by generally being a nasty piece of work in the best way possible.
This key matchup is also effectively another Springbok trial for these two men.
Orie has the advantage of being partnered by experienced former Springbok Willem Alberts while Andrews is paired with 22-year-old man-mountain Ruben van Heerden.
Orie and Alberts will keep the Sharks big boys busy in the loose hoping to tire them out while the home side will relish the physical contest, which they need to win to unleash their backs.
Flyhalf – Curwin Bosch vs Elton Jantjies
Born: 25 June 1997 (age 23 years), Port Elizabeth
Height: 1,81 m
Weight: 83 kg
Born: 1 August 1990 (age 30 years), Graaff-Reinet
Height: 1,76 m
Weight: 88 kg
A big part of being a great flyhalf is being able to handle pressure whether it is from onrushing loose forwards, the media, or expectant fans and both players will be feeling that even before the kick-off.
Jantjies came out on top in the flyhalf battle in the Springbok showdown, but it was a points decision rather than a knockout. The Lions flyhalf is under pressure to take his game to the next level.
Bosch has spoken openly of his desire to get a fair crack at the Sharks’ and Springboks’ number ten jerseys, but he has plenty of critics. The jury is out on whether fullback is actually Bosch’s best position, but at just 23-years-old he might deserve the benefit of the doubt.
Jantjies has to find a way to control the tempo of the game to ensure that the Lions are not overpowered by the Sharks.
Bosch can rely on the assistance of livewire scrumhalf Sanele Nohamba to get the Sharks backline moving forward but the pivot needs to find his creative spark.