The Sharks versus Lions has become a classic of South African rugby, and here we look at the five match-ups that could once again make it a brilliant encounter when the two teams face each other in Durban on Saturday (kick-off 4pm) in Round 2 of the Rainbow Cup South Africa.
Sbu NKOSI v Courtnall SKOSAN
There is oodles of pace on the wings in each team, lest we forget to mention Yaw Penxe and Rabz Maxwane, which we shouldn't. Both those players, especially Maxwane, have pace to burn.
But the battle of the Boks is on the other side, between incumbent Nkosi and the 12-Test capped Skosan. If either can get their hand on the ball, and find some clear space to operate in, then watch out – tries will happen. Skosan has become one of the leaders of the Lions in recent years, and after being kept relatively quiet in the Bulls match last week, will push for an improved performance.
Nkosi, meanwhile, has ambitions to play against the British and Irish Lions as the No 1 choice in the No 14 jumper, so he will need to put in a good shift to retain the interest of Rassie Erasmus and Bok coach Jacques Nienanber.
Lukhanyo AM v Wandisile SIMELANE
Am is a Bok, Simelane desperately wants to become one.
The midfield battle between the two is destined to dish up a wonderful mix of power-running and stepping. With the BI Lions bearing down on South Africa, Am will want to cement his place in the starting XV of the Test series, but Simelane will also have his eye on making a similar impression. Both players have the game to dismantle the opposition, and the pace and strength to break the gainline.
Simelane, the SA Rugby Young Player of the Year, also showed off his feet in the recent loss to the Bulls, which can bewildered even the best of defenders – which Am certainly is.
Curwin BOSCH v Fred ZEILINGA
Zeilinga has played only one competitive match for the Lions – against the Bulls – and will have to perform better against the Sharks to give the Joburgers the edge during the encounter.
It has been a crash course in getting to grips with the systems and playing style of his new team, and he will need to show this weekend that he is developing an understanding of his role in the team, and with his teammates. He is a veteran, and professional, so it shouldn't be too hard to do so.
Bosch, meanwhile, like several of his teammates is being talked up as a possible flyhalf for the Boks against the BI LIons. He has an impressive kicking game and tactical nouse that can control any game, although he can sometimes go missing in the big moments. That did not happen last weekend when the Sharks beat the Stormers in Cape Town, and it cannot happen this Saturday, especially if he wants to stay in the Bok frame.
Siya KOLISI v Vincent TSHITUKA
If we are honest, then the Springbok captain had an underwhelming campaign last season – and that is perhaps being generous.
So far, so good for the flank in his new outfit at the Sharks. He had a competent outing against the Stormers last week but is still arguably miles away from the form that helped him lead the Boks to the 2019 World Cup championship. There are voices of descent about his standing in SA rugby, and as exhausting it is to argue against them, Kolisi can do his part by putting in a shift to shut them up.
Tshituka, meanwhile, is a future Bok, especially if he keeps on putting in performances that cannot be ignored. At 22-year-old, he has his entire career ahead of him, and already he is making headway into the discussion for a national team call up. Another good outing, this time in Durban, will only increase his status with pundits and supporters alike.
Ox NCHE v Carlu SADIE
Another battle between a Bok and a would-be Bok.
We all know what Nche brings to his team – powerful scrummaging, powerful running, and powerful defending, and it will be up to Sadie to stop him. Sadie is currently operating in a space of being underrated in his abilities, and it is not quite clear why. The 24-year-old can scrum against the best of them – last week he brought a degree of stability to the Lions set-piece when he replaced veteran Jannie du Plessis, even winning a tighthead in the process – and he has grown in leaps and bounds when it comes to taking on the gainline with ball in hand.
He can certainly make it hard to dominate proceedings for Ox and the Sharks pack come Saturday.
Cell C Sharks Starting XV: Aphelele Fassi, Sbu Nkosi, Lukhanyo Am (captain), Jeremy Ward, Yaw Penxe, Curwin Bosch, Grant Williams, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Henco Venter, Siya Kolisi, Reniel Hugo, Ruben van Heerden, Thomas du Toit, Fez Mbatha, Ox Nche; Replacements:Kerron van Vuuren, Ntuthuko Mchunu, Wiehahn Herbst, Le Roux Roets, Phepsi Buthelezi, Jaden Hendrikse, Manie Libbok, Werner Kok
Emirates Lions STARTING XV: EW Viljoen; Rabz Maxwane, Wandisile Simelane, Dan Kriel, Courtnall Skosan; Fred Zeilinga, André Warner; Francke Horn, Vincent Tshituka, MJ Pelser; Reinhard Nothnagel, Ruben Schoeman, Carlu Sadie, PJ Botha, Sti Sithole; Replacements: Jaco Visagie, Nathan McBeth, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Len Massyn, Emmanuel Tshituka, Morné van den Berg, Jordan Hendrikse, Burger Odendaal