JOHANNESBURG – James Venter is one of a number of promising young Lions players looking to make their mark in the Currie Cup competition this year.
In the absence of more established loose-forwards like Warren Whiteley, Kwagga Smith, Cyle Brink and Jaco Kriel, who has left the Lions, the 22-year-old has a golden opportunity to get a right tick behind his name in the coming weeks.
The Lions are, after all, looking to blood new players over the course of the coming weeks with an eye on using them in Super Rugby next year. Besides promising openside flank Venter, the Lions have earmarked no less than 15 Under-21 players good enough to be considered for duty over the coming weeks.
In fact, some of them have already starred in the Currie Cup and in Super Rugby – men like Madosh Tambwe and Hacjivah Dayimani.
Venter made his Currie Cup debut last season, playing four games, before a bad ankle break, set him back.
“It was good last year, I got into the mix and was learning a lot ... and then I broke my ankle. That cost me six months, but I’m back now and looking forward to making an impact,” said the man who hails from Port Shepstone in KZN.
“I then did high school at Glenwood, as a boarder, played for the Sharks at junior level, but liked what I saw in the Lions. The way they played excited me, and while it was a big move for me to come up here, I haven’t regretted it. There’s just a different atmosphere here.”
Of course, regular Lions skipper Warren Whiteley is also an old Glenwood boy. “He was there way before my time, but we still chuckle at the fact we’re two Glenwood boys playing for the Lions in Joburg,” said Venter.
The stockily-built Venter said he has learnt plenty from the likes of Whiteley and Co at the Lions and hopes to use a bit of everything in his way of playing in senior rugby.
“There are so many good loosies at this union ... and I’ve definitely learnt a bit from all of them. They’re all great role models.
“Warren has taught me professionalism, with Kwagga it’s all work-rate ... chase the ball because the opportunities will come, while Cyle is a kind of ‘man-up guy’ ... all physicality. I’m hoping to adapt my game around all three of them.”
#LIOvGRI | Team Announcement:
3 Johannes Jonker
4 Rhyno Herbst
6 James Venter
7 Len Massyb
9 @rosscronje9 (c)
10 Shaun Reynolds
12 Manni Rass
13 Jan-Louis la Grange
14 Sylvian Mahuza
15 @AndriesC_Lions pic.twitter.com/i1TzWjdR3h
Venter will form a new-look backrow partnership with equally young Hacjivah Dayimani and Len Massyn this weekend, with all three out to make big impressions. The Lions open up their challenge with a clash against the unpredictable Griquas from Kimberley at Ellis Park on Friday evening.
“They’re a strong and physical team, but we’ll stay focused on our principles. We want to go out hard from first minute. The Currie Cup is a chance for all of us to get our foot in the door, show the coaches what we’re capable of.”
The law graduate is one of several rookies new boss Ivan van Rooyen will consider for selection over the coming weeks.
The others are: loose-forwards Massyn (21), Dayimani (20) and Vincent Tshituka (19), locks PJ Steenkamp (20) and Reinhard Nothnagel (20), hookers PJ Botha (20) and HP van Schoor (21), scrumhalf Bradley Thain (20), centres Manny Rass (20), Jan-Louis la Grange (20), Wayne van der Bank (21) and Wandisile Simelani (20), and outside backs Tyrone Green (20), Gianni Lombard (20) and Madosh Tambwe (21).