Lions ready to roar for late Glasgow onslaught

LIONS flank Emmanuel Tshituka has been rewarded for his cameo against Cardiff last week with a start against Glasgow today. BackpagePix

LIONS flank Emmanuel Tshituka has been rewarded for his cameo against Cardiff last week with a start against Glasgow today. BackpagePix

Published May 18, 2024


THE Lions are gearing up to fight fire with fire in the last quarter against the Glasgow Warriors in today’s must-win United Rugby Championship clash at Ellis Park (4.05pm kick-off).

Having been previously caught out in the second half by Munster, and seeing Glasgow nearly pulling off a late win over the Bulls last week, Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen has decided to load his bench with some of his big guns to counter a last-quarter onslaught from the log leaders.

It’s win or bust for the Johannesburg side, who are 10th on the standings on 44 points as they jostle for a play-off spot with ninth-placed Connacht (44), Benetton in eighth (48), Edinburgh in seventh (48), Ulster in sixth (49) and the Stormers in fifth (50).

Edinburgh were in action last night against Munster (third on 58 points) in Scotland, so that result may have changed the dynamic of the log, although not for the Lions.

Van Rooyen’s team have to win to stay in the play-off race, and would like to take their journey to the final league encounter against the Stormers in Cape Town next Saturday.

But to do that, they need to find a way to get off to a fast start and then maintain the intensity against the wily Glasgow outfit, having battled to keep going after an early 14-0 lead against Cardiff last week.

They needed two tries in the last six minutes by flank Emmanuel Tshituka to secure a 34-13 triumph.

Van Rooyen made the first move yesterday by selecting Gianni Lombard and Morné van den Berg as the Lions’ halfback pair, Tshituka at blindside flank, Ruan Delport at No 5 lock and Morgan Naudé at loosehead prop.

That means there will be some serious firepower coming off the bench in the second half, with all of JP Smith, Reinhard Nothnagel, Ruan Venter and Hanru Sirgel able to add real impact up front, while supreme playmakers Sanele Nohamba and Jordan Hendrikse can both make a significant difference to the backline.

Glasgow coach Franco Smith has also kept some heavy artillery on the bench in the shape of hooker Johnny Matthews – the URC’s top try-scorer with 12 – brothers Zander and Matt Fagerson, and No 8 Jack Dempsey.

Van Rooyen would have been relieved that captain Marius Louw is fit to play after the hard-running inside centre sat out training on Wednesday with a knee issue.

The Lions are already missing wing Richard Kriel (hamstring), with Rabz Maxwane coming in at No 14, and will hope that the talented Lombard, who has had bad luck with multiple injuries over the years, can spark the attack in what is his third game in a row in the match 23.

The Lions will also want to make it a special day for 40-year-old Willem Alberts (retiring), Tshituka and Hendrikse (both moving to the Sharks), who are all playing their final game at Ellis Park for the hosts.

“We will know next weekend (about the play-offs). If they (the Sharks) win (the Challenge Cup final), they take the eighth spot (to qualify for next season’s Champions Cup), and then you have to be seventh or sixth – you can’t lie eighth on the table,” defence coach Jaque Fourie said this week.

“We can only control the controllables, and that’s the next two games. You have to aim for seventh, and it’s probably a five-pointer and four-pointer, to be realistic.

“Willem (Alberts) is like a red wine: the older he gets, the better he gets. He has just been outstanding for us. If you look at the last few games, he puts his body on the line, and you can see why he was successful in his career as a Springbok as well.

“He never dies, he is always professional; every time he puts his foot on the field, he gives it his all.

“It is just outstanding to see, and he is a good role model for the younger players.

“What you see is what you get. If he doesn’t have his ‘Sean Raymond’ jersey on, or the helmet with the teeth on, that’s Willem. He is always a prankster, and always there for a laugh. So ja, that’s Willem for you!”

Teams for Ellis Park

Lions: 15 Quan Horn 14 Rabz Maxwane 13 Erich Cronjé 12 Marius Louw (capt) 11 Edwill van der Merwe 10 Gianni Lombard 9 Morné van den Berg 8 Francke Horn 7 Emmanuel Tshituka 6 JC Pretorius 5 Ruan Delport 4 Willem Alberts 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye 2 PJ Botha 1 Morgan Naudé

Bench: 16 Jaco Visagie 17 JP Smith 18 Ruan Dreyer 19 Reinhard Nothnagel 20 Ruan Venter 21 Hanru Sirgel 22 Sanele Nohamba 23 Jordan Hendrikse

Glasgow: 15 Josh McKay 14 Kyle Steyn (capt) 13 Stafford McDowall 12 Sione Tuipulotu 11 Kyle Rowe 10 Tom Jordan 9 George Horne 8 Henco Venter 7 Rory Darge 6 Euan Ferrie 5 Scott Cummings 4 Gregor Brown 3 Murphy Walker 2 Angus Fraser 1 Oli Kebble

Bench: 16 Johnny Matthews 17 Jamie Bhatti 18 Zander Fagerson 19 Max Williamson 20 Matt Fagerson 21 Jack Dempsey 22 Jamie Dobie 23 Duncan Weir