Call for Lions to be brave against the Bulls in Currie Cup semi-final
JOHANNESBURG - TWO-and-oh, 30-25 and 22-15, three losses in the last five Currie Cup encounters against the Blue Bulls; 10 play-off appearances since 2011; four subsequent final opportunities, and two championship triumphs.
Those are just some of the numbers the Xerox Lions will need to consider at Loftus Versfeld tomorrow (2pm) when they face their northern neighbours in the first semi-final of the world's oldest domestic rugby championship.
And the Lions team that will do so is arguably coach Ivan van Rooyen’s most well-rounded and experienced matchday 23.
The Lions coach left no guesswork yesterday when he selected the squad he believes will finally beat the Bulls, and it once again showed the depth and growth of the outfit as a whole.
The few changes that have been made include the veteran of 70 Tests, Jannie du Plessis, who will pack down at tighthead, while the return of a fully fit Sti Sithole, who was excellent before his injury, to the starting XV is a pleasing move.
“We are definitely blessed with our props,” said Van Rooyen when explaining the selection of Sithole, and omission of Dylan Smith.
“Sti, in the previous game against the Bulls, was part of the warm-up and the matchday squad, but he just came back from an injury, so we really smashed him on that Monday and Tuesday with fitness,” the coach continued.
“Unfortunately, (Smith) has a slight hamstring that pulled. He passed his fitness test yesterday, but we just felt that for continuity we will go with Sti and (Ruan) Dreyer (on the bench).”
It is now a well settled starting XV, one that will also rely on a
6-2 split on the bench for what is shaping up to be another physical battle that will be won at the setpieces and contact areas.
The only other debate was who would be the centre-pairing, and Van Rooyen answered that by playing Burger Odendaal and Wandisile Simelane.
Otherwise, the team takes on the familiar look and shape it has held nigh all season. In spite of that reassuring predictability, Van Rooyen was unafraid to declare that if the opportunity presents itself, his team will have a go at the Bulls.
“We've played them twice and came close twice,” said Van Rooyen. “I think we did create enough opportunities (in the 22-15 loss), we just didn't manage to take them.
“So, I think within that mindset ... we need to be brave in play-off games. You’ve got to be able and willing to give it a full crack, and we are keen to go there and see if we can put them under pressure.
“We have worked hard the last two weeks on our decision-making and how we can apply constant pressure for 80 minutes.”
TEAMS FOR LOFTUS
Bulls: David Kriel, Kurt-Lee Arendse, Stedman Gans, Cornal Hendricks, Stravino Jacobs, Morné Steyn, Ivan van Zyl 8 Duane Vermeulen (capt), Elrigh Louw, Marco van Staden, Ruan Nortje, Sintu Manjezi, Trevor Nyakane, Schalk Erasmus, Lizo Gqoboka
Bench: Johan Grobbelaar, Jacques van Rooyen, Mornay Smith, Jan Uys, Arno Botha, Embrose Papier, Chris Smith, Marco Jansen van Vuren
Lions: Tiaan Swanepoel, Stean Pienaar, Wandisile Simelane, Burger Odendaal, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies (capt), Andre Warner, Len Massyn, Vincent Tshituka, Jaco Kriel, Willem Albert, Marvin Orie, Jannie du Plessis, Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole
Bench: Jan-Henning Campher, Ruan Dreyer, Carlu Sadie, Reinhard Nothnagel, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Morne van den Berg, Dan Kriel.