JOHANNESBURG – Lions head coach Swys de Bruin has some big calls to make in the next two days as he prepares his team for Saturday’s do-or-die Currie Cup clash with the Cheetahs at Ellis Park.
The fourth-placed Lions must beat the defending champions if they’re to qualify for the semi-finals next week, but De Bruin has to decide whether he will throw his five available Springbok players straight into the mix for the clash.
Backs Andries Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan and Ross Cronje and forwards Malcolm Marx and Ruan Dreyer are all available for the match after joining the union on Tuesday following the Rugby Championship that wrapped up in Cape Town at the weekend.
While De Bruin stated after last weekend’s win against Western Province he would utilise all five these Bok stars, it is understood some in the Springbok camp would prefer to see hooker Marx get a break and possible the other players, too.
Coetzee, Skosan and Marx have started all of the Boks’ Tests this year and played virtually every minute of every Test, while Dreyer has played in parts and Cronje, too, hasn’t played in all the internationals.
Elton Jantjies and Franco Mostert have left to join their clubs in Japan and won’t be available for the Currie Cup.
It will thus be up to De Bruin to decide how he fits these five men into his squad – do they start, or come off the bench?
He is as desperate as every other Currie Cup coach in the country to get into the playoffs and a win for the Lions this weekend, with some other results going in their favour, could see the Joburg team actually host a semi-final last weekend.
“Did you guys see what Malcolm did on Saturday,” gushed De Bruin after his side’s comeback win against Western Province on Sunday afternoon.
What might make the Lions boss’s decision a little easier is the fact the Cheetahs are likely to be at full strength for the match.
A Cheetahs “B” team has played for the most part during the Currie Cup competition while the “A” team has been involved in the Pro14 competition, that competition breaks for two weeks, allowing the Cheetahs to send their strongest side into the field this week and next.
That means the men from Bloemfontein could include in their team to play the Lions men such as captain Francois Venter, outside backs Makazole Mapimpi, Sergeal Petersen and Rosko Specman, and forwards Torsten van Jaarsveld, Paul Schoeman, Ox Nche and Oupa Mohoje.
As defending champions the Cheetahs, like the Lions, will want to give themselves their best chance of qualifying for the final and winning on Saturday has become a big deal.
De Bruin, though, will have a few other decisions to make, like who he picks at loose-forward.
He surprised friend and foe with the inclusion of rookies Jo Hanko de Villiers and Len Massyn as his flankers for the clash with Western Province, with Kwagga Smith at eighthman, while rising star Hacjivah Dayimani had to be happy with a spot on the bench.
De Bruin though will also consider the bigger and bulkier Robert Kruger and Cyle Brink this week.
Meanwhile, wing Ruan Combrinck underwent shoulder surgery on Tuesday morning and is expected to be out of action for six months. That means he will miss the start of Super Rugby next year, just as he did this year.