JOHANNESBURG – The Lions have welcomed back Springboks Elton Jantjies and Lionel Mapoe for their crucial Currie Cup clash with the Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday.
Both men will start in the backline in a game the Joburg team must win if they’re to secure a semi-final place. The final round-robin game is basically a quarter-final clash, with the Pumas, who’re currently in fifth place in the table, also hoping to advance to a last four place with a win.
Four of the Lions’ other Bok players – Warren Whiteley, Malcolm Marx, Aphiwe Dyantyi and Franco Mostert – were not considered for the match, while a fifth, Ross Cronje (shoulder), is out for the rest of the year with a shoulder injury. Another Bok player, Andries Coetzee (foot) - who hasn’t played for the national team at all this season - is also sidelined for the remainder of the year.
Star lock Mostert, who was expected to join Gloucester in England following his national duties, remains a Lions player for now, according to union CEO Rudolf Straeuli.
“We’re still involved in a dispute with Gloucester and right now Franco is under contract with the Lions,” said Straeuli on Tuesday. “It’s nothing personal, but I was instructed by our board to stand up to Gloucester ... Franco has a contract with us and he must honour it.”
In another exciting move by the Lions, young wing Wandisile Simelane will earn his first start this season after previously starring from off the bench. Also, the team will be lead for the first time by scrumhalf Nic Groom, who only joined the union midway through the Super Rugby competition this year.
He said yesterday the two-week break in the competition had served the Lions well. “It was great timing for us (after losing twice before the break), said Groom. “We’re excited now about what’s left for us ... potentially three weeks (including the playoffs) to make something special out of the season.”
Meanwhile, Straeuli confirmed on Tuesday he was staying put as the Lions CEO after recent reports suggested he was on a shortlist for the vacant CEO position at the Bulls. “I have a huge amount of respect for both the Lions and Bulls, both unions I represented on the field.
“I am honoured to have been linked to the position and of course it is an opportunity. But I didn’t apply for the job and I didn’t go for any interview. I am very happy where I am and there is still work to be done here at the Lions. You don’t just get up and walk away, like players do when their contracts end ... it doesn’t work like that at my level.”
The Lions team is:
Sylvian Mahuza, Wandisile Simelane, Lionel Mapoe, Howard Mnisi, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Nic Groom (capt), Hacjivah Dayimani, Jo-Hanko de Villiers, James Venter, Marvin Orie, Rhyno Herbst, Jacobie Adriaanse, Corne Fourie, Sti Sithole.
Replacements: Pieter Jansen, Danie Mienie, Chergin Fillies, Driaan Bester, Len Massyn, Dillon Smit, Shaun Reynolds@jacq_west