JOHANNESBURG – Covid-19, a tough start earlier in the year, the frustration of not playing, and Joburg’s inclement weather have not dampened coach Ivan van Rooyen’s belief that the Lions have the opportunity to start a new era as rugby restarts in earnest this weekend.
Van Rooyen chucked a splattering of surprises at yesterday’s team announcement in Doornfontein and here we look at some of the selections that caught our attention as the Lions prepare to take on the Sharks in Durban (7pm kick-off) in the opening match of Super Rugby Unlocked on Friday.
Unexpected back 3
Van Rooyen has opted to play former Stormers player EW Viljoen at fullback, out of his preferred position at wing, justifying the selection by saying that the 25-year-old “has played a lot of his school rugby and junior rugby at 15”.
The selection opens several options in the Lions’ backline as Viljoen fulfils a much needed role with his versatility as he can easily slot in at wing or move into the midfield if called upon to do so.
Bookending the backline on the wings will be Jamba Ulengo – no surprise there – while Rabz Maxwane, formerly of the Cheetahs, closes out the outside backs.
Centres of attention
Another new signing in former Bulls captain Burger Odendaal has also been shifted by the Lions’ coach to outside centre in a move that no doubt will bolster the midfield on both defence and attack.
Odendaal, who usually plys his trade at 12, also brings with him a wealth of experience, and will be joined by Dan Kriel.
The exciting Wandilsile Simelane, who participated in the Springbok Showdowns this past weekend, will start on the bench and could be a game-breaker when he gets onto the field.
Experience up front
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns for the Lions earlier this year, was the lack of depth, experience and firepower in the forwards.
Those irksome problems now seem to be a thing of the past, as Van Rooyen has called upon former Springbok and the hugely inspirational Willem Alberts at lock, in another shift away from a player’s preferred position.
Joining Alberts is another seasoned veteran – The Pride’s fan favourite Jaco Kriel, who will finally be making his return to the field after a frustrating injury lay-off.
Along with the pace of Vincent Tshituka, the ever-present Marvin Orie, and with the likes of Carlu Sadie and Sti Sithole in the front-row, the team once again looks like it can take command of the set-pieces and breakdowns.
Lions team versus Sharks
EW Viljoen, Jamba Ulengo, Burger Odendaal, Dan Kriel, Rabz Maxwane, Elton Jantjies (capt), Dillon Smith; Len Massyn, Vincent Tshituka, Jaco Kriel, Marvin Orie, Willem Alberts, Carlu Sadie, Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole.
Replacements: Jan-Henning Campher, Dylan Smith, Ruan Dreyer, Wiehahn Herbst, Wilhelm van der Sluys, MJ Pelser, Hacjivah Dayimani, Morne van der Berg, Gianni Lombard, Wandisile Simelane.