Johannesburg – Lions coach Johan Ackermann has spruced up his team with nine changes to the starting line-up for the Lions Challenge match against the Cheetahs at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The Cheetahs are bringing an injury-hit squad featuring fringe players to Johannesburg and Ackermann will also be fielding several new faces for the Lions' second game of the season, following their 51-13 victory over Russia last weekend.
Centre Alwyn Hollenbach, who has been mentioned for higher honours, has returned from injury and will provide captain JC Janse van Rensburg with experienced support alongside loose forward Derick Minnie.
Swys du Toit has also been introduced at hooker, with Martin Bezuidenhout, the subject of loan speculation in Cape Town, out of the squad.
While the Lions did confirm they are in negotiations with the Stormers over lending the front-ranker to them, Ackermann said the Orkney-born 23-year-old would have been rested this weekend anyway.
“We received a call requesting we loan Martin to the Stormers from February to the end of March and we are busy finalising the details. We should know for sure on Monday,” Lions CEO Manie Booysen said on Friday.
Janse van Rensburg said he expected a tough encounter against the Cheetahs.
“There's always extra competition against the South African teams, it will be like a derby, hard and tough. The Cheetahs are in the same boat as us, their tight five will also be out to prove themselves, so it will be as tough as always up front,” he said.
Ackermann has brought Du Toit, two new locks Ä former Northern Free Stater Gavin Annandale and Hugo Kloppers Ä and flank Jaco Kriel into the pack, while the Cronje twins, Ross and Guy, will direct affairs from halfback.
Among the backs, former Blue Bulls flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff is included at fullback and Ackermann confirmed the 24-year-old is being looked at as a challenger to Andries Coetzee in the number 15 jersey.
“Marnitz played a lot of rugby at fullback for the Blue Bulls U20 side and we want to see how he goes at 15; he is challenging Andries Coetzee. Marnitz can cover flyhalf as well, while Ruhan Nel can also play fullback and Lionel Cronje covers inside centre too,” Ackermann said.
Hollenbach at inside centre and Nel on the right wing are the other changes to the backline, and Ackermann said Hollenbach, the former SA U19 star, was eager to get back onto the field after a shoulder injury.
“Alwyn is eager to play; I asked him if he was sure he was 100
percent ready and he said it's time to get back on the park, he didn't want to wait another week,” Ackermann said.
Lions team: Marnitz Boshoff, Ruhan Nel, Stokkies Hanekom, Alwyn Hollenbach, Anthony Volmink, Guy Cronje, Ross Cronje, Willie Britz, Derick Minnie, Jaco Kriel, Hugo Kloppers, Gavin Annandale, Ruan Dreyer, Swys du Toit, JC Janse van Rensburg. Replacements – Robbie Coetzee, Jacques van Rooyen, JJ Breet, Claude Tshibidi, Michael Bondesio, Lionel Cronje, Andries Coetzee. – Sapa