Waratahs must stop the most dangerous Lion
STOP the forward momentum, stop Elton Jantjies - that's the message the Waratahs are taking into Saturday night's Super Rugby semi-final against the Lions at Johannesburg's Ellis Park.
"Elton's probably the barometer of their team, in terms of how he plays," Waratahs captain Bernard Foley said on the eve of their knockout final.
"When they're going well, he's a magnificent player."
Indeed, the mercurial flyhalf has been the driver of the Lions' success over the last three years, with the once downtrodden club finishing runner-up in 2017 and 2018.
But on the biggest stage, the 27-year-old hasn't been able to play with the same confidence and freedom that he shows on a weekly basis throughout the regular season.
In his two finals appearances Jantjies' quiet performances have reflected the Lions' sobering results.
He has averaged 16.6 points across five Super Rugby playoff wins since 2016, but that number drops to just five in their two finals losses to the Hurricanes (2016) and Crusaders (2017).
It's why the Waratahs are putting such an emphasis on stopping the Lions' strong forward pack.
"When their forwards are doing him a job, setting the platform, getting that roll on, getting that forward momentum, he is a phenomenal player - especially with his running game- when he takes on the line, when he kicks, he's got a lot of attacking kicks in his arsenal, so for us he's probably the barometer," Foley said.
"If we're doing what we want to be doing and being able to shut down their momentum, shut down their go-forward, especially up front, then it puts his skills and application under a lot more pressure and that's what we want to be doing."
The Lions head into the home semi-final as the clear favourites.
Not only did they trounce the Waratahs 29-0 in Sydney in April, they also haven't had to leave South Africa since the start of May.
The Waratahs, meanwhile, have had to travel across the Indian Ocean and acclimatise quickly to the local conditions.
Altitude often plays a big part as Johannesburg sits 1700m above sea level.
The last remaining Australian team will also have to overcome one of the fiercest rugby atmospheres in the world at Ellis Park.
But Foley said playing in front of your own fans also brought with it its own challenges.
"Naturally, if you're the home team there's pressure on you," Foley said.
"They finished second in the competition through results and they've been successful the last couple of years, finishing number one, hosting finals and they haven't won that elusive final.
"For us, we're not worrying about who's feeling more pressure - it just comes down to the game.
"Who can handle the moments, who can apply the pressure in game - not before thinking about the external pressures that may or may not be."
The Waratahs, on the other hand, have a number of proven performers in their team, including seven players from the side that took out the 2014 Super Rugby title.
Waratahs lock Rob Simmons also won the Super Rugby title in 2011 with the Reds.
Foley said it was important that the Waratahs didn't get caught up in the emotion of the match and enjoyed the occasion.
"It's just to embrace it," the champion flyhalf said.
"Not to get overawed or caught up with the whole occasion - but just to embrace it.
"This is why you play footy for so many years and you get an opportunity - so not to let it go to waste.
"You've trained for so many years, you've done all the hard work behind the bright lights so when you get into these cauldrons, in these hostile environments, you really embrace it and show your character.
"That's the message to this team.
"We're really excited by the prospect."
SEMI-FINAL 2: LIONS v WARATAHS in Johannesburg, Saturday 11.05pm AEST
LIONS (15-1): Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Warren Whiteley (c), Lourens Erasmus, Kwagga Smith, Franco Mostert, Marvin Orie, Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Jacques van Rooyen
Reserves: Corne Fourie, Dylan Smith, Johannes Jonker, Hacjivah Dayimani, Marnus Schoeman, Dillon Smit, Courtnal Skosan, Howard Mnisi
WARATAHS (15-1): Israel Folau, Alex Newsome, Curtis Rona, Kurtley Beale, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Bernard Foley (c), Nick Phipps, Michael Wells, Will Miller, Ned Hanigan, Rob Simmons, Jed Holloway, Sekope Kepu, Tolu Latu, Tom Robertson
Reserves: Damien Fitzpatrick, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Paddy Ryan, Tom Staniforth, Brad Wilkin, Jake Gordon, Bryce Hegarty, Cam Clark
Referee: Glen Jackson (NZ)
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