As the Test series between South Africa and the Lions reaches its climax, how do the two sides selected for the decider match up?
Here are our head-to-head player ratings on the eve of a Cape Town clash, which see six changes in the ranks of the tourists.
Willie le Roux 7, Liam Williams 8
Having hailed himself the best player in the world under the high ball, Williams has a lot to live up to, but his aerial ability does enable him to do so and it’s an area where he does have the edge over the gifted but sometimes erratic Le Roux. In attack, the Welshman can hit great lines, while Le Roux is a beautifully balanced runner.
Makazole Mapimpi 8, Josh Adams 8
Two quality wingers, a fascinating contest. Mapimpi offers a real threat with his speed and intelligent kicking, taking his try well last week, while Adams’ absence from the Test series up to now has been a mystery, given his predatory finishing, his effectiveness on the cross kick and the way he goes looking for work, switching wings and popping up in midfield.
Lukhanyo Am 8, Robbie Henshaw 7
The 27-year-old Am has really shone in this series, laying down an immediate marker with his huge hit on Elliot Daly in the opening minutes of the first Test. He’s such a powerful figure, but also has good hands. A new role for the reliable Henshaw as he moves out one, giving him a chance to show what he can do in a wider channel.
Damian De Allende 8, Bundee Aki 6
The strong-carrying De Allende caused the Lions a lot of problems last week with his running off 9 and Aki has been brought in to try and negate his impact there, while also providing some much-needed go-forward, as he resumes his long-established centre pairing with Henshaw. The biggest game of his life and a tough test against a world class performer who wins cap No 50 for the ‘Boks.
Cheslin Kolbe 8, Duhan van der Merwe 6
Kolbe is somewhat fortunate to be involved after two potential red card incidents last weekend, while the same could be said for Van der Merwe after his unconvincing display. Having had limited opportunities with ball in hand, Kolbe will want to finish the series by showcasing his genius and his ridiculously quick feet could spell trouble for the bulky Van der Merwe.
Handre Pollard 8, Dan Biggar 7
The way Pollard set up Mapimpi’s try last week was one of the highlights of the series, as he shaped to throw out a long pass before putting a perfectly placed cross-chip into the winger’s hands. So much has been said about how Biggar only passed the ball three times in that game, no doubt under orders, and there will be intense scrutiny on the tactics.
Cobus Reinach 6, Ali Price 6
Reinach has a tough act to follow as he replaces Faf de Klerk but he showed his threat during his time at Northampton, particularly with his trademark intercepts, and has gone well in partnership with Pollard at Montpellier. The rightly recalled Price has an important role to fulfil, with the Lions looking to play with with greater tempo.
Steven Kitshoff 8, Tadhg Furlong 8
A pair of top of the range props and their renewed scrummaging battle will be intriguing to watch. Kitshoff marked his 50th cap last week with a fine all-round display, putting in eight carries and nine tackles, while also winning the scrum penalty that preceded the ‘Boks first try. If the Lions are to have a chance, they will need Furlong to be at his rock-like best.
Bongi Mbonambi 7, Ken Owens 7
Both men had their lineout wobbles last week, raising questions over them starting. But despite Malcolm Marx having made such a huge impression off the bench, the hard-working Mbonambi retains his place, while Owens’ experience and street-wise nous sees him get the nod for what will be the first Lions Test start of his career.
Frans Malherbe 7, Wyn Jones 7
It’s been a frustrating time for Jones who has sat out the first two Tests due to a shoulder infection. But now he’s back to fitness and has a crucial role to play in shoring up a Lions scrum that was demolished last week, as he packs down against the 19st 10lbs man mountain Malherbe. His jackal work over the ball will also be invaluable.
Eben Etzebeth 8, Maro Itoje 8
Hostilities are renewed with the pair having squared up in a prolonged grapple amid the main second Test flare-up, with the grinning Etzebeth eyeballing his opposite number. Itoje has probably been the pick of the Lions, so the always combative Etzebeth will want to get under his skin and on top of him physically. Don’t take your eyes off this one for a moment.
Lood De Jager 7, Alun Wyn Jones 8
What an impact De Jager made off the bench last week, contributing hugely to the ‘Boks mounting dominance at the set-piece and maul time. He now deservedly earns a start amid a reshuffle, which brings him up against Jones, who led from the front in terms of the tackle count and will be desperate to end his extraordinary Lions career on a winning note.
Franco Mostert 7, Courtney Lawes 7
Stormers stalwart Mostert has been an important nuts and bolts figure for the Boks in this series and now he shows his versatility by switching from lock to the blindside, bringing real physicality to the back row with his 6ft 6ins, 17st 9lbs frame. Also provides a genuine lineout option to counter that offered by Lawes who will want to get back to his first Test impact.
Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi combines with centres Lukhanyo Am and Damian de Allende to tackle Robbie Henshaw
(Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
Siya Kolisi 8, Tom Curry 7
There was plenty of soul-searching from Kolisi after the first Test defeat, but he responded in style last week, bringing assured leadership as well as one of his best performances for his country, with some mighty carrying and a huge work rate. There had been debate over whether Curry would keep his place, having not really hit top gear, but the coaches have kept their faith in him.
Jasper Wiese 7, Jack Conan 7
Leicester’s Wiese got through a load of work on his first Test start last week, hitting 20 rucks and making 11 tackles. Conan’s stats have also been eye-catching on a tour where he has put in 50 carries for 134 metres, made 27 tackles and beaten nine defenders. Gatland likes his error-free accuracy, so he stays ahead of the other No 8 options.
Total: South Africa 112, Lions 107
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