JOHANNESBURG – The Emirates Lions’ brains-trust have kept the faith and will be praying to the rugby gods that their selection for their clash against the Stormers on Saturday (kick off 7pm) will lead them to the promised land.
Coach Ivan van Rooyen has stuck to his guns, and to the squad that lost to the Sharks 19-16 last week, making only one change to his team – and it is an enforced change at that. Scrumhalf Morne van den Berg has been selected in the starting XV, replacing the injured Dillon Smit, who is expected to be on the sidelines for at least four months. Onto the bench comes in Springbok No 9 Ross Cronje as cover, with former Blue Bulls man Andre Werner missing out.
Otherwise, the side that will take on the Stormers, who are coming off a bye, remains the same as last weekend’s.
Here, Morgan Bolton looks at the Lions players to watch this weekend.
Sti Sithole at loosehead prop
Sithole put in a massive shift against the Sharks last weekend by outscrumming Springbok prop Thomas du Toit at times. He will have to be at his best again this weekend as he takes on arguably an even bigger task when he packs down against World Cup winner Frans Malherbe.
In fact, the entire front row of the Stormers is composed of World Cup champions – the Cape Town side have selected hooker Bongi Mbonambi, while at loosehead they have called upon Steven Kitcthoff. It is an intimidating line-up, one that Sithole and teammate Carlu Sadie in the No 3 jumper will have to come to terms with immediately if the Lions have any say in the set-piece.
Morne van den Berg at scrumhalf
It was a sad sight to watch a dejected Smit walk off the field last week during the first half with a then suspected dislocated shoulder but luckily for the Lions, his replacement, Van den Berg, performed his duties with aplomb.
The nuggety scrumhalf – with shades of former scrummie Faf de Klerk bleeding through his performance last week – went about his business with verve, delivering possession competently to his backline, while rallying his forwards manfully. He even affected a steal or two at the breakdown and defended staunchly. His only failings were a number of wayward box-kicks but as Van Rooyen was quick to point out yesterday, the young man is still a rookie and has much to learn.
Correcting that, and continuing his momentum built up from the previous match, will only do his team all the right favours as they try to nullify a Springbok-laden Stormers side.
— Emirates Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) October 15, 2020
EW Viljoen at fullback
If we are honest, it was not the greatest debut performance from Viljoen in the Lions colours last week. Viljoen was shaky under the high ball, and seemed unsure of his role in the setup. With that said, the fullback did make 13 carriers – a joint round high for the opening weekend. Van Rooyen has, therefore, decided to start with the 25-year-old at fullback again in a move that will no doubt boost the confidence.
It is well known that Viljoen has all the talents to be a match-winner and with the backing of his coach, must now repay that faith with glimpses of that virtuosity. A noteworthy performance against his former team should do the trick.
The Lions Starting XV:
EW Viljoen; Jamba Ulengo, Burger Odendaal, Dan Kriel, Rabz Maxwane; Elton Jantjies (capt.), Morné van den Berg; Len Massyn, Vincent Tshituka, Jaco Kriel, Marvin Orie, Willem Alberts, Carlu Sadie, Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole.
Replacements: Jan-Henning Campher, Dylan Smith, Wiehahn Herbst, Wilhelm van der Sluys, MJ Pelser, Hacjivah Dayimani, Ross Cronjé, Gianni Lombard, Wandisile Simelane, Ruan Dreyer