- The Lions will hope their match squad for Friday’s match against Griquas represents the ideal mix of youth and experience they’ve sought since the local game’s disruption earlier this year.
- Coach Ivan van Rooyen has pertinently given his rookies an opportunity, leaving his stalwarts on the bench as an “insurance policy”.
- He also notes that his charges aren’t going into the game with a catch-up mentality.
If matches are won and objectives completed on paper, the Lions could safely say that they’ve found an ideal mix between youth and experience ahead of Friday night’s Super Rugby Unlocked encounter against Griquas at Ellis Park.
Head coach Ivan van Rooyen’s bench oozes experience and proven class with Ruan Dreyer, Jannie du Plessis and Burger Odendaal all assembled to play their part in the latter stages of the game.
Jaco Kriel would’ve been present as well but was withdrawn on compassionate grounds following the death of his father, Herman.
It’s a distinct change of direction for the Lions, who for most part of their golden run in Super Rugby between 2015 and 2018 stuck to a core of stalwarts in the starting line-up.
“We’ve said from the outset since the resumption that we’re in a very privileged position. We’re really have a fine and varied group of players,” said Van Rooyen.
“It’s nice to have that so-called insurance on the bench with Ruan, Jannie, Jaco and Burger, while allowing the younger guys to front up.”
15 Gianni Lombard, 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies (captain), 9 Morné van den Berg, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 MJ Pelser, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Sti Sithole.
Substitutes: 16 PJ Botha, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Burger Odendaal, 23 Tiaan Swanepoel
15 James Verity-Amm, 14 Ederies Arendse, 13 Harlon Klaasen, 12 André Swarts, 11 Eduan Keyter, 10 George Whitehead (captain), 9 Zak Burger, 8 Carl Els, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 Gideon van der Merwe, 5 Adre Smith, 4 Mzwanele Zito, 3 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 2 HJ Luus, 1 Andrew Beerwinkel
Substitutes (from): 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Bandisa Ndlovu, 18 John-Roy Jenkinson, 19 Johan Momsen, 20 Ewan Coetzee, 21 Theo Maree, 22 Tinus de Beer, 23 Masixole Banda, 24 Bandisa Ndlovu, 25 CJ Velleman, 26 Jonathan Francke
One certainly can’t accuse of Van Rooyen merely giving his rookies an opportunity in a game some would consider less intense as they were also primed to face the Cheetahs last week despite the squad’s Covid-19 disruption.
“I’m really excited about this dynamic,” said the Lions mentor.
“We’re at a juncture now where we can give guys opportunities to gauge in four or five weeks’ who’s on par and what can still be worked on.”
The green but promising loose trio of MJ Pelser, Vince Tshituka and Len Massyn looks an ideal combination of power and mobility while Van Rooyen continually touts the game-breaking abilities of Wandisile Simelane, who’ll start in the midfield.
Another instance of him expanding his search for combinations that, perhaps realistically, challenge for the upcoming Currie Cup instead of Unlocked is the inclusion of wing Stean Pienaar.
“For now, it’s purely rotational,” said Van Rooyen.
“But Stean does possess a fair bit of X-factor and is a little bit more of an unknown player, which gives us some unpredictability.”
However, while the testing of combinations is understandable, the reality remains that the Lions desperately need to kick-start their campaign, which has to date delivered two narrow losses.
Last week’s disruption certainly put them back in terms of valuable match fitness though Van Rooyen doesn’t believe his charges now need to play catch-up.
“I wouldn’t say we have that mindset,” he said.
“There’s rather an intense desire to make a statement, particularly on our home-ground, with regards to players finding their feet and staking a claim. We want to get going.”
Kick-off in Doornfontein is at 19:00.