Depleted Lions aim to set aside derby woes against Stormers
The absence of key personnel and their poor record in derby matches this season are elements the Lions will hope will be confined to only pre-match chat as they go into battle against the Stormers at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The Lions have lost twice to the Sharks‚ to the Stormers at Newlands and the Bulls at Ellis Park‚ which is quite a turnaround from the monopoly they held in derby matches before this campaign.
“We can’t really say. We can’t pinpoint anything‚” said stand-in captain Malcolm Marx‚ struggling to explain their failure against their countrymen.
Assistant-coach Neil de Bruin was equally in the dark.
“Why that is I don’t quite know. We had been quite successful against South African opposition. Maybe the SA teams have improved‚” said De Bruin‚ who went on to suggest that derby matches tend to take on the close combat character of Test matches.
And therein lies the rub. The Lions have lost some forwards‚ particularly tight forwards of enduring quality‚ in recent seasons and are no longer able to pummel and then outrun their countrymen.
De Bruin nods cautiously when reminded of the fact.
“The pack we have now is a pack in the making. It is growing every day. Every match we see them improving‚” he said.
Naturally De Bruin expects a physical confrontation and the Lions have the added complication of deploying a reconfigured backrow. Kwagga Smith is back at No 8 in Warren Whiteley’s absence‚ while Cyle Brink has shifted to the No 6 jersey.
It is at the back‚ however‚ where much focus will be on the performance of stand-in flyhalf Shaun Reynolds‚ who is deputising for Elton Jantjies‚ who was dropped for disciplinary reasons.
Jantjies has started every match this season and he has been the Lions’ backline playmaker for the last seven or so seasons.
Reynolds got the thumbs up from his fellow Lions. “I’m very happy for Shaun who now gets an opportunity. He is a very exciting rugby player. I rate him‚” said Smith.
Marx said: “Shaun is a great player‚ to be fair.”
De Bruin added: “The DNA of how we play is invested in the team. Ross [Cronjé] can move in there from nine.
“The idea is to play with a bit of flair and a bit of freedom and to drive the team and Shaun is very well suited to that. He is an exciting player and this might be his breakthrough match.”
Lions - Andries Coetzee; Courtnall Skosan‚ Lionel Mapoe‚ Harold Vorster‚ Aphiwe Dyantyi; Shaun Reynolds‚ Ross Cronjé; Kwagga Smith‚ Vincent Tshituka‚ Cyle Brink; Marvin Orie‚ Stephan Lewies; Carlu Sadie‚ Malcolm Marx (captain)‚ Dylan Smith. Substitutes: Jan-Henning Campher‚ Sti Sithole‚ Johannes Jonker‚ Reinhard Nothnagel‚ Marnus Schoeman‚ Hacjivah Dayimani; Nic Groom‚ Tyrone Green.
Stormers - Damian Willemse; Seabelo Senatla‚ Johannes Engelbrecht‚ Damian de Allende‚ Dillyn Leyds; Joshua Stander‚ Herschel Jantjies; Sikhumbuzo Notshe‚ Johan du Toit‚ Jaco Coetzee; Cobus Wiese‚ Eben Etzebeth; Wilco Louw‚ Siyabonga Ntubeni‚ Steven Kitshoff.
Substitutes: Chad Solomon‚ Corne Fourie‚ Frans Malherbe‚ Ernst van Rhyn‚ Marno Redelinghuys; Justin Phillips‚ Jean-Luc du Plessis‚ Dan Kriel.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Cwengile Jadezweni‚ Stefan Geldenhuys
TMO: Marius Jonker