Lions given clean bill of health ahead of two crucial clashes against Pumas and Bulls
JOHANNESBURG – If you were the Lions coach, you would no doubt be smiling ear-to-ear, much like the Cheshire-Cat but only broader.
Ivan van Rooyen has the unenviable task of juggling his squad in the next 10 days as his team face the Pumas on Saturday (kick-off 2pm) and then travel to Loftus Versfeld four days later to play the table-topping Blue Bulls. Luckily for all concerned, the Lions have depth, and the form to manage both encounters and not even bat an eyelid, future injuries and Covid-related interruptions notwithstanding.
The majority of his squad were given a clear bill of health on Monday, with only a few niggles a concern. Sti Sithole is one of those slight worries. The prop will miss Saturday's clash against the Pumas but his pectoral muscle tear will be assessed next week Monday and he could well be in the mix for the Bulls game. That shouldn't be a problem, however, not with Jannie du Plessis, Ruan Dreyer, Dylan Smith, Carlu Sadie, Wiehahn Herbst and Nathan McBride to call upon.
So too will Jamba Ulengo and EW Viljoen in all probability miss both matches as they recuperate from a MCL and hamstring injury, respectively.
No matter, Courtnall Skosan and Stean Pienaar have been excellent on the wings, while Rabz Maxwane is no doubt champing at the bit to get back on the field. Tiaan Swanepoel has had a growing influence at fullback, and Van Rooyen can still select Divan Russouw, who has yet to make a competitive appearance this season. The Lions coach can afford to rotate his squad, and still enjoy the grace of having a powerful starting XV no matter whom he chooses over the next week and a half.
Everywhere he looks, he has options, from fullback to his props with the one concern perhaps at flyhalf where an injury to Elton Jantjies in the next two matches could be a blow for their title ambitions.
The Lions currently hold the third spot in the standings, one point ahead of the Sharks and three clear of the chasing Free State Cheetahs, and a bonus point victory in Nelspruit could mathematically secure that top four spot, as those two teams plus the Western Province - two points ahead of the Joburgers - must still face each other and could well knock out one of those teams over the next two weekends.
The Lions, despite a tough schedule ahead, and an enforced hiatus, remain in the team to beat.
The fit-again Lions squad
Fullbacks: Tiaan Swanepoel (can play 10), Divan Russouw
Wings: Rabz Maxwane, Steam Pienaar, Courtnall Skosan
Centres: Wandisile Simelane, Dan Kriel, Burger Odendaal, Manuel Rass
Flyhalf: Elton Jantjies
Scrumhalf: Ross Cronje (can play 10); Andre Warner, Morne van den Berg (can play 10)
Loose-forwards: Len Massyn, Ruan Straeuli, Vincent Tshituka, Marnus Schoeman, Jaco Kriel, Roelof Smit
Locks: Reinhardt Nothnagel, Willem Alberts (can play as a loose-forward) Wilhelm van der Sluys (can play as a loose-forward) MJ Pelser, Francke Horn, Marvin Orie, Ruben Schoeman
Props: Jannie du Plessis, Wiehahn Herbst, Ruan Dreyer, Carlu Sadie, Nathan McBeth, Dylan Smith, Asenathi Ntlabakanye
Hookers: PJ Botha, Jaco Visagie, Jan-Henning Campher