Johannesburg - How’s this for a backline-trio: Wandisile Simelane, Edwill van der Merwe and Rabz Maxwane. If that doesn’t get Lions fans’ hearts a-racing, mouths a-salivating and tongues-a-wagging, then by all means, check your pulse.
The fleet-footed and dangerous Van der Merwe will make his debut for the Emirates Lions against Cardiff Rugby this weekend when the United Rugby Championship (URC) resumes. The former Stormers wing was snapped up by the union in late August, and with his contract now expired with the Western Province Rugby Union, has been immediately inserted into the starting XV by Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen.
The 25-year-old will form a lethal wing combination with the equally speedy Rabz Maxwane, playing in the No 14 jumper; and if outside-centre Wandisile Simelane finds his feet and off-loading game, then the trio could be unstoppable with ball in hand on the outside.
Coupled with the fine form fullback EW Viljoen is in currently, and the back-three could run Cardiff ragged on Sunday at Emirates Airline Park (kick-off 4pm), if the conditions play nice.
Meanwhile, Lions fans will also be pleased to note that Willem Alberts and Tiaan Swanepoel will return for the fixture after sustained injury lay-offs, playing off the bench. The raking, big boot of Swanepoel, in particular, could be a massive advantage for the Lions in the late stages of the match, if the game is a close encounter and if victory hinges on a massive penalty being slotted over.
Van Rooyen, as released in a statement on Tuesday, has also opted for Fred Zeilinga at flyhalf, resolving for now a crisis in selection in that particular position during their tour of Europe last month. Matt More will act as cover, but it is also possible that Swanepoel could slot in at pivot, if so required and so decided.
The Joburg-based team will also unleash the exciting loose-trio of Jaco Kriel, Vincent Tshituka and Franke Horn, who did not play in the final two matches of the tour against Glasgow and Ulster. Van Rooyen has also selected his most powerful front-row in Sti Sithole, Jaco Visagie and Carlu saide, who have not missed a beat during the URC campaign and have arguably been one of the best components of this Lions team.
Emirates Airline Park will also welcome back supporters to the stands – a maximum of 2000 fans will be allowed through the gate to watch the match.
“It’s good to be back home,” said Van Rooyen in the statement.
“We’ve put in solid training sessions on and off the field over the past three weeks and the guys are looking in great shape and quite excited to play at home. Our focus this weekend is to achieve a positive result by executing on the plans we have set out for ourselves as a squad and most importantly improving on the gains we achieved overseas in certain areas.”
The Lions are currently 13th in the tournament standings on six points, having won one of their four matches.
Emirates Lions Starting XV: EW Viljoen; Rabz Maxwane, Wandisile Simelane, Burger Odendaal (capt), Edwill van der Merwe; Fred Zeilinga, Andre Warner; Francke Horn, Vincent Tshituka, Jaco Kriel; Reinhard Nothnagel, Ruben Schoeman; Carlu Sadie, Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole; Replacements: Pieter Botha, Morgan Naude, Ruan Dreyer, Willem Alberts, Ruhan Straeuli; Morne van den Berg, Matt More, Tiaan Swanepoel.