JOHANNESBURG - The Lions have received a timely boost with the availability of scrumhalf Ross Cronje, who has been included in and been named captain of the Lions team to face the Sharks in the Currie Cup in Durban on Saturday.
Cronje, who takes over the leadership from Marvin Orie, returns a week after the Lions copped a big hiding from Western Province and after he sat on the bench for the Springboks in their now famous win against the All Blacks in Wellington.
The Bok No 9 will bring energy and confidence to the Lions team who, with a win, will secure their place in the top four and the semi-finals in a month’s time. But Cronje won’t be the only Lions player out to impress and make a difference this weekend.
Injuries to a number of Bok players who featured recently in Rugby Championship matches and the unavailability of others means national coach Rassie Erasmus will keep a close eye on the Currie Cup matches this weekend before finalising his squad for the home Tests against Australia and New Zealand.
Centres Lukhanyo Am and Damian de Allende are injured, as is wing Makazole Mapimpi, while England-based duo, fullback Willie le Roux and loose-forward Francois Louw, are unavailable.
What it means for three of the Lions’ backline players is an opportunity to get back into the Bok frame. Andries Coetzee, Lionel Mapoe and Courtnall Skosan have all got Bok experience and will come into reckoning should they perform well this weekend. Mapoe, especially, has a strong case for inclusion in the squad as he covers outside centre and wing.
#SHAvLIO | Springbok @rosscronje9 will lead the Xerox Golden Lions on the field when they face the Cell C Sharks in Durban on Saturday. Cronje was released by the Springbok management & takes up the captaincy role for the Lions in the @DirectAxis @TheCurrieCup Cup once again. pic.twitter.com/AYFwvCoQ3R
Making this weekend’s match against the Sharks even more interesting is the fact that several of their players, too, will be hoping to catch Erasmus’ eye; among them Curwin Bosch, Lwazi Mvovo and, coming off the bench, fit-again Sbu Nkosi.
The Lions are coming off a first defeat of the Currie Cup competition, while the Sharks are unbeaten so far. In the only other change to the Lions team that lost to Western Province last week, tighthead prop Johannes Jonker starts in the No 3 jersey.
Lions team (15-1): Andries Coetzee, Sylvian Mahuza, Lionel Mapoe, Howard Mnisi, Courtnall Skosan, Shaun Reynolds, Ross Cronje (capt), Hacjivah Dayimani, Len Massyn, James Venter, Marvin Orie, Rhyno Herbst, Johannes Jonker, Pieter Jansen, Sti Sithole. Replacements: Corne Fourie, Jacobie Adriaanse, Rienhard Nothnagel, Driaan Bester, Nic Groom, Gianni Lombard, Wandisile Simelane.