JOHANNESBURG – Just when it seemed the Lions were over their injury worries and settled on a first-choice team, they have been hit by a fresh round of setbacks.
Key loose forward Kwagga Smith, lock Stephan Lewies and prop Sti Sithole will all miss the crucial final-round Super Rugby game against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
Smith’s hamstring injury, picked up in the loss to the Hurricanes last weekend, means he won’t feature again this Super Rugby season.
Lewies, who withdrew on the eve of the match last weekend, has a knee problem and will be reassessed next week.
He has, however, had a scan done and seen a knee surgeon. And Sithole, like Smith, is nursing a hamstring problem.
They join the likes of Warren Whiteley, Jacobie Adriaanse, Lourens Erasmus and Gianni Lombard on the sidelines.
What it means for coach Swys de Bruin is that he will have to find a new back-row combination for the umpteenth time this year as Smith, Whiteley, Vincent Tshituka and Cyle Brink have all missed out through injury at some time this season.
Hacjivah Dayimani will be the favourite to take over from Smith at No 8 this week, and in the playoffs should the Lions qualify.
But De Bruin could also consider bringing Marnus Schoeman back into the loose trio and shift Tshituka or Brink to No 8.
Rookie lock Reinhard Nothnagel, who came into the team at the 11th hour last weekend, could continue in place of Lewies this weekend, but De Bruin may also consider Rhyno Herbst or Ruan Vermaak, also youngsters who have played for the Lions already this year.
Another young gun, prop Nathan McBeth, is likely to continue in place of Sithole, who was already ruled out late last week and missed the Hurricanes game.
Lions v Hurricanes | Super Rugby 2019 Rd 17 Highlights
The @Hurricanesrugby step it up a gear in the second half to take a decisive 37-17 victory over the @LionsRugbyCo.#SuperRugby #LIOvHUR pic.twitter.com/c6ZFkwYns9
— Super Rugby (@SuperRugby) June 8, 2019
But it’s not only in the forwards where De Bruin and his coaching team have some big decisions to make ahead of the trip to Pretoria.
At flyhalf, the question is, will the coach continue to start with Shaun Reynolds, as he did last Saturday even though the experienced Elton Jantjies was available, or back the Springbok to do the job against Handre Pollard and his Bulls?
Or, as De Bruin did earlier this year when Lombard was fit and firing and preferred at flyhalf, the coach could opt to play Jantjies at 12 and continue with Reynolds at 10.
Either way, the Lions have a big job at hand. They’re currently sixth on the overall log and in position to feature in the playoffs, but if other results go against them on the final weekend, they may have to beat the Bulls to secure a top-eight spot.
Lions boss De Bruin will finalise his line-up later in the week, and name his side for the match on Thursday.