JOHANNESBURG – Despite some shaky moments in the first two rounds of action, the Lions have backed the same starting pack for the third week in a row, ahead of this Saturday’s Super Rugby showdown with the unbeaten Stormers at Ellis Park.
Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen said on Thursday it was “not yet” time to make changes up-front, even though the forwards were forced onto the back-foot by the Reds last weekend.
Van Rooyen has instead backed 37-year-old tighthead prop Jannie du Plessis to come good against the star-studded Stormers front-row and pack this week, as he has the other men in the pack.
“We’ve been growing. It’s been better week after week, and to be fair, we didn’t get much unit time in the last two weeks. This was our first full week (of training) and after two proper sessions, it’s another opportunity (for these players),” said Van Rooyen.
The Lions boss was referring to the disrupted first week, when the team flew out to Argentina for the match against the Jaguares, while last week, ahead of the Reds game, they only had limited training time because of their arrival back in South Africa late Monday.
Van Rooyen though has been able to select 35-year-old powerhouse, Willem Alberts, on his bench, after it had been feared earlier in the week he would be out for some time with a bicep injury.
“Willem had a little scar tissue which the medical team were able to get rid of and he came through our session well, so it’s nice to be able to select him,” said the Lions coach. He added Alberts’ physicality and experience could be key for the Lions against a settled and firing Stormers team.
“His X-factor is his physicality. He’ll also bring a calm head (to proceedings) having played in a lot of games like the one coming up this weekend. He’ll also bring some energy to the match.”
Van Rooyen said the Stormers – who have so far beaten the Hurricanes and Bulls at home, and not conceded a point in the process – would be a nice challenge for his young team.
“The Stormers are playing well; they’ve got momentum on their side after two good wins, and they’ve got a world class forward pack, with some World Cup winners there. We know it’s going to all start up-front.
“Elsewhere, we’re looking forward to playing against their defensive system, which they gain a lot of confidence from. But, we’ve identified a few areas where we feel we can attack them and play … so we’re looking forward to this opportunity.”
Prop @Dy1Smith will run out in his 50th Vodacom Super Rugby game on Saturday. The burly prop made his Super Rugby debut in 2016 and have scored two tries.#LionsPride #LIOvSTO pic.twitter.com/Wat0Ywg3px
— Emirates Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) February 13, 2020
In the only change to the Lions starting team that beat the Reds 27-20 last weekend, Manuel Rass replaced Duncan Matthews at 13, while on the bench, Wandisile Simelane makes his first appearance of the new campaign.
Meanwhile, scrumhalf Ross Cronje will lead a Lions XV against the Blue Bulls in the curtain-raiser on Saturday. Also playing for the hosts will be, among others, Tiaan Swanepoel, Stean Pienaar, Jamba Ulengo, Shaun Reynolds, Reinhard Nothnagel and Roelof Smit – all players keen to make an impression ahead of the Lions’ four-match tour of Australia.
The match kicks off at 3.05pm.
Lions: Andries Coetzee, Tyrone Green, Manuel Rass, Dan Kriel, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies (capt), Morne van den Berg, Len Massyn, Vincent Tshituka, Marnus Schoeman, Marvin Orie, Ruben Schoeman, Jannie du Plessis, Pieter Jansen, Dylan Smith.
Replacements: Jan-Henning Campher, Sti Sithole, Carlu Sadie, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Willem Alberts/Ruan Vermaak, Hacjivah Dayimani, Dillon Smit, Wandisile Simelane.