Injuries, Covid-19 protocols force Lions’ Ivan van Rooyen’s hand ahead of WP clash
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JOHANNESBURG – The Lions, down on their luck, confidence low and battling to find a footing in this season’s Currie Cup, have two matches to rectify their faults and at least finish the campaign on a positive, however homuncular it may be.
It won’t be easy though ahead of their penultimate fixture against the Western Province on Wednesday, as coach Ivan van Rooyen finds himself battling injuries sustained during the encounters against the Free State Cheetahs and Bulls, the return of Covid-19 protocols and – as reported by local media – the possibility of being replaced in the coming weeks.
Both tight-head props Carlu Sadie and Jannie du Plessis left the field injured on Saturday in the 44-44 draw against the Cheetahs, leading to uncontested scrums in that match which also robbed them of any attacking platform from that particular set-piece. Meanwhile, Springbok Ruan Dreyer, who can cover both sides of the front-row, is not available due to family responsibility leave.
Those injuries and the ineligibility of Dreyer, have left the Lions with limited options in the No 3 jumper and will see Chergin Fillies, who last played according to Ultimate Rugby in 2019 for the Bulls in the Currie Cup, start in that position.
Asenathi Ntlabakanye, meanwhile, will cover from the bench. Elsewhere up-front, Nathan McBeth swaps out with Sti Sithole, and will pack down alongside the ever-improving Jaco Visagie at hooker. Mark Snyman will also miss out on the Province encounter, but his absence will be mitigated by the return of MJ Pelser to the starting XV and the explosive Emmanuel Tshituka as a replacement.
A degree of consistency will be welcomed by the Van Rooyen and Lions supporters in the backline – it remains unchanged with Burger Odendaal once again captaining the side, while the same replacements that came on in the 48-22 loss to the Bulls this past weekend; Ross Cronje, Dan Kriel and Manuel Rass; return as well.
The Lions are currently sixth in the standings on 24 points. They do still have a mathematical chance of making the play-offs, but their fate is very much out of their hands. Beating the WP handsomely tomorrow in Cape Town (kick-off 7pm) could yet aid that attempt, but the Joburgers will have to repeat the attempt on Saturday against the Sharks at Emirates Airline Park.
Previous indications, however, have revealed a general malaise surrounding the team – in spite of moments of attacking verve - regarding their defense, decision-making and ability to play a full 80-minutes, so it would be considered a long shot that the Lions would be successful in such an endeavour.
Lions fans can only hope.
Sigma Lions Starting XV: 15 EW Viljoen; 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Burger Odendaal (capt.), 11 Rabz Maxwane; 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Andre Warner; 8 Travis Gordon, 7 Sibusiso Sangweni, 6 MJ Pelser, 5 Ruben Schoeman, 4 PJ Steenkamp, 3 Chergin Fillies, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Nathan McBeth;
Replacements: 16 Morne Brandon, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 19 Emmanuel Tshituka, 20 Mandisi Mthiyane, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Dan Kriel, 23 Manuel Rass