Vincent Tshituka will be hoping to impress in the Currie Cup. Photo: Christiaan Kotze/BackpagePix
They’re both desperate to make a statement in this year’s Currie Cup; the Golden Lions because they fared so poorly in Super Rugby in the first half of the year, and the Pumas because they went unbeaten in the league stage of the SuperSport Challenge but lost in the final.

They meet this afternoon at Ellis Park in round one of this year’s competition and you can be sure it’s going to be a thrilling affair.

The Lions have been rocked in recent weeks by the departure of several high profile players, while a good number of others are currently sitting on the sidelines with injury. Five more are training with the Springboks. It’s pretty clear then Ivan van Rooyen’s Lions are a depleted bunch.

But what the current state of affairs has brought about is several young players eager to impress now have a golden chance to show what they can do at a higher level. Captain Ross Cronjé is by some distance the most experienced man in the Lions team and he is also the only Springbok. The only other player in the set-up who is a Super Rugby regular is loosehead prop Dylan Smith. Everyone else has had a taste of Currie Cup rugby and some even Super Rugby, but none of them will be automatic picks for Super Rugby next year.

What this means is the next few weeks will be like a trial for most of the Lions players and Van Rooyen also made that clear this week.

“Most of these guys are going to have six 80-minute performances to gain experience and show what they can do,” he said.

“I want them to go out there and try things and have fun.”

And as young and inexperienced as the Lions are today, they still appear to have more of a cutting edge than the Pumas.

Maybe only replacement forward Hilton Lobberts of coach Jimmy Stonehouse’s team has played Super Rugby; the rest have had to be happy with Currie Cup and SuperSport Challenge action.

So you can be sure they’ll be fired up to knock over one of the “big guns” in the Lions and if their recent form is anything to go by they could give Van Rooyen’s team a good run.

The Pumas - who always promise much, but haven’t finished higher than fifth in the last three instalments of the Currie Cup - go into the competition today having won all seven league games in the SuperSport Challenge and are no doubt in upbeat mood.

In what should be good conditions at 3pm, expect a high-scoring open encounter.

TEAMS

Lions: Tyrone Green, Madosh Tambwe, Wandisile Simelane, Wayne van der Bank, Stean Pienaar, Shaun Reynolds, Ross Cronjé (capt), James Venter, Vincent Tshituka, Marnus Schoeman, Reinhard Nothnagel, Rhyno Herbst, Johannes Jonker, Jan-Henning Campher, Dylan Smith

Replacements: Pieter Jansen, Sti Sithole, Jacobie Adriaanse, Ruben Schoeman, Len Massyn, Dillon Smit, Manual Rass, Jan-Louis la Grange

Pumas: Devon Williams, Morné Joubert, Neil Maritz, Ryan Nell (capt), Etienne Taljaard, Jacobus Marais, Reynier van Rooyen, Willie Engelbrecht, Herman du Preez, Jeandré Rudolph, Stefan Willemse, Le Roux Roets, Marné Coetzee, Marko Janse van Rensburg, Andrew Beerwinkel

Replacements: Cornelius Els, Wikus Groenewald, Hilton Lobberts, Phumzile Maqondwana, Ashlon Davids, Chris Smith, Henko Marais, Morgan Naudé

@jacq_west 


Saturday Star

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