Lions pack to rely on ‘gees’ in Swansea

Asenathi Ntlabakanye of the Lions tackles Conor Oliver of Connacht. | Shutterstock

Asenathi Ntlabakanye of the Lions tackles Conor Oliver of Connacht. | Shutterstock

Published Mar 30, 2024


A DISAPPOINTED figure in the stands at the Swansea Stadium this evening will be colourful Lions prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye, who is serving a three-match suspension for foul play.

At over 160kg, the cameras won’t miss him, but his team will miss his powerful presence the most in this URC game against the Ospreys.

The rotund tigthhead has become a cult figure at the Lions for his strong scrumming and robust play, but he got it wrong last week when he cannoned high into Connacht player Conor Oliver.

A red card was inevitable and a disciplinary hearing nearly threw the book at him, but then took into account his otherwise good behaviour and his remorse.

The judges started with a six-week ban and then cut it in half because of his cooperation and apology.

The 24-year-old will also miss next week’s Challenge Cup last 16 match against Benetton in Italy.

Ntlabakanye was shown red by referee Craig Evans in the 15th minute of the match in Ireland, although his team shook off the handicap of being a player down and sensationally beat Connacht 38-14 – a first for a South African team in Galway.

“There is a nice ‘gees’ (spirit) in the squad,” said assistant coach Ricardo Loubscher ahead of the Ospreys game.

“A win on tour always creates energy. There is a great vibe. We take a lot of confidence out of beating them (Connacht) with 14 men, but we know we must back that up now.

“We can use this opportunity to kick on. I see it as a tipping point in performances over the past few years. There is good clarity around our style of play and as coaches, we made sure we got the selection right and there is a plan A and a plan B.”

Louscher said the team must not rest on their laurels.

“We must move forward and put in another good performance. We have prepared well. The boys were sore after the Connacht game but we are good to go.”

Head coach Ivan van Rooyen had made one change to last week’s team, with Conraad van Vuuren replacing Ntlabakanye.

Veteran Ruan Dreyer will be on the bench as cover.

The match is a major milestone for Edwill van der Merwe as the flyer is celebrating his 50th cap for the Lions.

Since joining them from the Stormers, the 27-year-old has been a prominent figure for the Johannesburg team.

He scored a blistering try during the big win over Connacht and will want to celebrate his latest milestone in style with another win on the road.

Lions: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Richard Kriel, 13 Erich Cronje, 12 Marius Louw (capt), 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Emmanuel Tshituka, 6 JC Pretorius, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Conraad van Vuuren, 2 PJ Botha, 1 JP Smith

Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Morgan Naude, 18 Ruan Dryer, 19 Darrien Landsberg, 20 Izan Esterhuizen, 21 Hanru Sirgel, 22 Morne van den Berg, 23 Stean Pienaar