Ahead of the 2016 Super Rugby Final, between the Hurricanes and Lions, Planet Rugby has decided to select the key head-to-head battles set to take place in Wellington on Saturday.
Six positions caught the eye as we study wing, fly-half, scrum-half, number eight, openside flank and hooker. The list though could have gone on.
Here we go then… be sure to check our final total at the foot of the article. Give us your match prediction in the comments section.
Super Rugby Final: Head-to-heads
Cory Jane v Courtnall Skosan This duel should be an interesting one as it's also a battle of contrasting styles. 33-year-old Jane's experience will be crucial in the pressure cooker enviroment of a final. The 2011 World Cup winner has gone quietly about his business this season but his value to the Hurricanes cause should not be underestimated. Jane is a key role player in implementing his side's defensive game-plan with his excellent communication skills playing a big part helping them to prevent the Sharks and Chiefs from crossing the whitewash in their previous play-off matches. He's no slouch on attack though with his side-step and strong fend still effective.
Skosan, meanwhile, has been impressive on attack throughout the season and has benefitted from the Lions' expansive style of play. The 25-year-old is the Lions' joint top try-scorer – along with inside centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg – with 10 tries, which is one less than the tournament leader, Israel Folau. Although defence is not his strongest attribute he is not afraid to put his body on the line. He combines blistering speed with a brilliant skill-set and will be difficult to stop if he finds the ball in space.
Verdict: This battle between the old pro and his younger opponent might not have as big an influence as some of the other match-ups but it will be hotly contested. As a 53-Test veteran, Jane's experience will be crucial and should give him the edge though.
Beauden Barrett v Elton Jantjies
Both these playmakers head into the final at the top of their game and the final's result will in all probability hinge on the winner of this duel. Barrett's form has been sublime in recent weeks, so much so that it has been suggested that he is the world's best pivot based on current form. The All Black delivered virtuoso displays in his team's play-off victories over the Sharks and Chiefs and is the tournament's leading pointscorer with 208 points. His attacking flair has been rewarded with eight tries which puts him at the top of Hurricanes' try-scoring charts.
Jantjies is not far behind in the point-scoring department and is currently lying third on 187 points. The 26-year-old is a confidence player and has thrived as a playmaker since Lions head coach made him his first-choice number 10. This was evident in last weekend's semi-final triumph over the Highlanders in Johannesburg when he delivered arguably his best ever performance at this level. Everything the Springbok tried came off in that game and he also impressed in defence, a part of his game which was regarded as biggest weakness in the past. Jantjies heads into the final with more try assists (16) than any other player in the competition.
Verdict: Although Jantjies was outstanding last week, Barrett has been the more consistent of the two this season and that hand's him a crucial advantage in this battle.
TJ Perenara v Faf de Klerk
Both Perenara and De Klerk have been superb throughout the season and head into this encounter in a rich vein of form. Perenara has impressed throughout the campaign with his best showing delivered in his side's quarter-final victory over the Sharks. The All Black number nine has been brilliant on attack and defence throughout the campaign and another fine all-round performance should help his team to their first ever Super Rugby title. The 24-year-old's impressive service to Barrett has been superb throughout the season and his brilliance on attack has seen him cross for seven tries.
De Klerk is another brilliant attacker who has scored four tries for the Lions this year and his impressive partnership with Jantjies is one of the main reasons they are in the final. Similar in style to Perenara, the Springbok has a keen eye for the gap and if he finds himself in space he's sure to wreak havoc with ball in hand. De Klerk is also solid in the tackle and is yet to concede a penalty in the 976 minutes he's played this year.
Verdict: Although both players are evenly matched, and head into this clash in fine form, Perenara tends to lift his game when playing in front of his home crowd and should win this duel.
Victor Vito v Warren Whiteley
Both these players have been very influential in their respective teams' run to the final. Vito, who is playing in his 100th and last match for the Hurricanes, will try to dominate at the gainline in order to provide front-foot ball for his team's dangerous backs. His explosive running style should keep the Lions defence busy but he will also be expected to do his bit in defence, which has proven to be a weakness when games became tight in the past. A disciplined showing is also a must as he was lucky not be sent to the sin bin in his team's semi-final win over the Chiefs, after he deliberately collapsed mauls close to his try-line.
Whiteley has been included in the Lions' starting XV, after he missed their semi-final win over the Chiefs through injury, which is a massive boost for the men from Johannesburg. His return will inject much-needed pace into the Lions' game and his ability to link with his back-line should keep the Hurricanes' defenders on their toes. His leadership skills will also be important and his decision-making should play an important role in this game's outcome. Defensively solid, the Springbok is also a handy lineout option although Vito is also very good in this department.
Verdict: Although both will play crucial attacking roles, solid defensive displays generally play a big part in deciding finals and Whiteley has the edge in this department.
Ardie Savea v Jaco Kriel
Another key battle which is expected to have a big influence on the final's outcome. Both players have caught the eye with some superb displays this year and will lead their teams' onslaught at the breakdown. Savea combines searing pace with an intelligent rugby brain which was rewarded with an All Blacks debut against Wales earlier this year. The 22-year-old has scored five tries and assisted the same amount of five-pointers during the campaign. His 24 turnovers for the season is second only to Brumbies tearaway David Pocock and he has more tackles (192) than any player in this year's tournament.
Kriel has been superb on attack this season, gaining 822 metres and beating 55 defenders in the process. That latter statistic is the most for a forward in the competition and fourth highest overall for 2016. His superb form with ball in hand has seen him cross for six tries this season which is also second highest for a forward in the tournament. Kriel's game isn't just about attacking though and his 106 tackles for the year is second only to Franco Mostert (109) in the Lions team for the season.
Verdict: It's so difficult to predict a winner from this showdown as both players have been superb throughout the year and head into this clash in sublime form. Whoever comes out on top will have to play his best game of the year but we can't split these two so it's a tied result here.
Dane Coles v Malcolm Marx
Another battle between players with contrasting styles in a key position for both teams. Coles possesses plenty of pace and has silky skills which makes him the prototype of the modern-day hooker. Although there's still uncertainty over the All Black's participation in the final, due to his rib injury, there's no doubt that his inclusion will be a boost for his team-mates as he has been in superb form during their campaign. He normally pops up in the wide channels – usually with devastating effect – but doesn't shy from performing his core duties and has shown that he is a pretty useful captain after replacing ex-All Black Conrad Smith at the start of the season.
After making his Super Rugby debut in 2014, Marx has made the Lions' number two jersey his own this year thanks to several superb performances. Similar in build to Bismarck du Plessis, the 22-year-old is a superb ball carrier who enjoys the physical nature of the game but like Coles he also does his basics well. Marx seldom loses the ball in contact and is also is handy as a forager at the breakdowns. It's only a matter of time before his fine form is rewarded with a Springbok call-up.
Verdict: A fully fit Coles would ege this contest but, if he plays, he isn't expected to be in prime condition which should see Marx winning this battle.
Head-to-head total count: Hurricanes 3-2 Lions
by David Skippers