JOHANNESBURG - A backline to thrill, but a pack that’s lacking punch. That’s what Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen has gone for ahead of tomorrow’s Currie Cup semi-final against the Sharks in Durban.
With Springbok wing Aphiwe Dyantyi back in the red and white No 11 jersey and joining the likes of Nic Groom, Elton Jantjies, Howard Mnisi, Lionel Mapoe, Courtnall Skosan and Sylvian Mahuza the Lions have a backline with skill and speed and good enough to cause havoc in the semi-final.
But by managing the game-time of hardcore tight-five operators Malcolm Marx and Franco Mostert - who have played a lot of rugby this year - ahead of the Boks’ year-end tour and not picking them for the Sharks game, the Lions look a little soft up front.
They’re also without the powerhouse hooker Corne Fourie, who’s not available because of an invitation game he is playing in Japan in the coming days. The good news though is that regular No 8 and inspirational captain Warren Whiteley is back in the mix after missing the two home Tests against Australia and New Zealand recently because of injury.
And while Lions boss Van Rooyen said he hadn’t specifically picked the team to take on the Sharks, who’re normally an abrasive and powerful unit up front, he was expecting big things from his No 8 and his back division.
“It’s nice having Warren back ... as a leader and a human being, it’s priceless,” said Van Rooyen. “He’ll bring calmness to the team, but also leadership. I’m confident he’ll play well alongside (fellow loosies) James Venter and Jo-Hanko de Villiers; they’ve spent enough time together in training.”
But whether the pack can get on the front foot and provide the exciting back division with enough ball is another matter. Even so, Van Rooyen is looking forward to a strong performance from Dyantyi and Co.
#SHAvLIO | Team Announcement— Xerox Golden Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) October 18, 2018
2 Pieter Jansen
3 Jacobie Adriaanse
4 Rhyno Herbst
6 James Venter
7 Pikkie de Villiers
11 Aphiwe Dyantyi
15 Sylvian Mahuza pic.twitter.com/6MmCzNFnWm
“I’m expecting a lot of excitement on attack and defence (from the backs),” said Van Rooyen. “It’s good having some leaders back and there’s a good deal of experience between them, too. But I’ll be looking for accurate decision-making and good execution from them.
“We know what’s coming from the Sharks ... they’ll have a plan, as will we. It remains 15 versus 15 though, and while it’ll start up front and remains a physical game, we’re going to stick to our DNA; we just have to go out there now and execute.”
Van Rooyen added the availability again of Whiteley and his fellow Bok players made the Lions a much stronger outfit than when the teams last met, in mid-September. “The senior guys coming back definitely make a positive impact in the team. They’ve experienced this kind of pressure before, and we’ll be looking to them to be that guy (that stands up).”
Kick-off tomorrow is 2.30pm.