Johannesburg — The Sharks host the Lions in a United Rugby Championship clash on Friday at Kings Park.
Here, Morgan Bolton looks at some interesting, key match-ups that could define the encounter.
Vincent Tshituka v Emmanuel Tshituka
It is a pity that come scrum-time, the Tshituka brothers won’t pack down opposite one-another, and stare each other down eye-to-eye as loose forwards. Nevertheless, we can’t wait to see the two run at each other.
Vincent will be slotting in at No 4 for this encounter, while younger brother Emmanuel will take his bind at No 6. Both were former teammates at the Lions and cut their professional teeth in Johannesburg. They used to live together in the Big Smoke, so they know the other’s strengths and weaknesses intimately.
They are both hugely talented, skillful, and possess all-round games that are the envy of any family. They are explosive and powerful with ball-in-hand, and determined defenders. They don’t mind working in the grey areas of the game, performing unseen dark arts.
Pound-for-pound, they are nearly identical, but Vincent has just that bit more experience. They have expressed excitement regarding facing each other, and quite frankly we are just as excited to see how it unfolds.
Jaden Hendrikse v Jordan Hendrikse
Another battle of the brothers we hope to see come to fruition.
On Friday, No 10 Jordan will first have to subdue an ever-improving Curwin Bosch in the skirmish between the flyhalves, while his older brother and Springbok scrumhalf Jaden looks on from the bench.
Their paths could cross later in the game, however, and then it could be an interesting clash of styles. Jordan has seemingly bulked up in recent months, and is developing an attacking facet to his game. He has a prodigious boot that few will be able to out-kick, and is moving the Lions backline nicely.
Jaden, meanwhile, should be full of confidence after a solid season in the green and gold. He is a nippy No 9 who can play quick-ball at breakdown time, and has an educated box-kick that will threaten the Lions back-three.
The Lions’ scrumhalves Sanele Nohamba and Andre Warner will do well to mark him when he does come on. Equally, they will need to keep an eye on Grant Williams, who will start the match, in that channel.
Lukhanyo Am v Marius Louw
The Lions inside centre and former Sharks player has had a noteworthy season so far for the Joburgers.
After a messy but adequate debut, Louw has come into his own and played some decent rugby, smashing his way into and through defensive lines, while putting his body on the line for the team without ball-in-hand.
But, if we are brutally honest, there is a gap in class here. It is not that Louw is a sub-par player, only that Am is so far ahead of any of his peers in world rugby, that he can make even world-class players look decidedly average.
Louw’s task is unenviable as he has to keep arguably the best centre, if not one of the best players in the world, quiet on attack while also dominating the Sharks’ outside centre when he is on the move.
It would be a tough ask for anyone, and will show just how in-form and confident Louw really is.
Phepsi Buthelezi v Ruan Venter
In all the one-on-one match-ups, the No 8 battle could probably not be more diametrically opposed.
Buthelezi is a highly mobile loose-forward with all the silky-skills that go with those talents. But when compared to Venter – who weighs in around the region of 120kg and stands at nearly 2m tall – the 23-year-old Sharks back-rower is a light-weight.
This season Venter has dominated opposition players, smashing into them with glee, trappling over them with ferocity and sitting down much more illustrious players with bull-dosing runs. The 20-year-old is a scary specimen when on the move, and has discombobulated attacking and defending players with equal effect.
Buthelezi might not be as physical, but he does have much more experience at this level as a No 8, which is his biggest advantage over the bruising Venter.
Carlu Sadie v Asenathi Ntlabakanye
Speaking of specimens, the tightheads that will pack down for the clash should be classified as Ents, such are their powerful physiques.
Sharks man Sadie – who is a solid 138kg – and current Lions No 3 Ntlabakanye – who the URC’s official website has weighing in at 153kg – look like they have erupted from the ground, their tree-trunk thighs moving impressive girths around the park with agility and momentum.
Like Vincent, it will be Sadie’s first match against his former team, and while he and Ntlabakanye won’t pack down directly opposite each other at scrumtime, what they do in the set-piece will go a long way in determining who will have the upper-hand.
Both have put in some tireless shifts in recent matches, and will be asked to do so again on Friday. It might, therefore, be a case of attrition and who can survive what is expected to be a high-octane encounter the longest that will win the day.