Lions have the firepower to roar in Galway

Emmanuel Tshituka will start at blindside in place of the injured Ruan Venter for the Lions against Connacht tonight. | BackpagePix

Emmanuel Tshituka will start at blindside in place of the injured Ruan Venter for the Lions against Connacht tonight. | BackpagePix

Published Mar 23, 2024


THE Lions may not have talented centre Henco van Wyk available, but will still field a formidable team for ‘mission impossible’ – beating Connacht in Galway – in tonight’s United Rugby Championship clash (7.15pm SA time kick-off).

No South African team have won at The Sportsground since the start of the URC, with the Lions going down 43-24 at the venue in January 2023.

But coach Ivan van Rooyen’s outfit will hope to kick on from their last match – a 40-10 victory over the Sharks at Ellis Park on March 2 – and remain in the hunt for a play-off spot.

A win tonight could see the Joburg side move into the top eight on the log from their current 11th position, as they are on 29 points, with Connacht seventh on 33 and Benetton eighth on 32.

Star No 13 Van Wyk has been ruled out with a shoulder injury he picked up against the Sharks, and has been replaced by the experienced Erich Cronjé, while Emmanuel Tshituka is at blindside flank for the injured Ruan Venter.

But the rest of the starting line-up remains the same, with Sanele Nohamba at scrumhalf and Jordan Hendrikse at flyhalf.

Their big boots and playmaking abilities will be vital in ensuring that the Lions are able to deal with the expected wet and windy conditions, which have often left South African teams perplexed in Galway.

But for Nohamba and Hendrikse to play on the front foot, they will need the likes of prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye, lock Etienne Oosthuizen and No 8 Francke Horn to get stuck in physically up front.

In addition, the Lions must take advantage of the absence of Connacht’s Irish Six Nations players, centre Bundee Aki and tighthead prop Finlay Bealham.

“We’ve had decent preparations this week in cold, wet weather, which is great because we are expecting similar conditions come Saturday. It’s nothing new to us, as we are familiar with the environment over here from previous visits,” Lions scrum coach Julian Redelinghuys said on the team’s website yesterday.

“The vibe inside camp is great. We tend to travel well, and the guys enjoy one another’s company. It’s also a nice opportunity to bond as a squad. Coming off a win against the Sharks two weeks ago also bodes well for team spirit.

“They are a very tough side to play over here. They are a dangerous team when given front-foot momentum, coupled with their fast tempo at which they play the game.

“We have an opportunity, however, to challenge their set piece, which is going to require our forwards to roll up their sleeves in very tough, hostile conditions over here in Galway.

“Our guys are up for it though – we enjoy it when it’s tough, because that’s when we as a group play for one another.”

Lions Team

15 Quan Horn 14 Richard Kriel 13 Erich Cronjé 12 Marius Louw (captain) 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 Asenathi Ntlabakanye 2 PJ Botha 1 JP Smith.

Bench: 16 Jaco Visagie 17 Morgan Naudé 18 Conraad van Vuuren 19 Darrien Landsberg 20 Izan Esterhuizen 21 Hanru Sirgel 22 Morné van den Berg 23 Stean Pienaar.