’The first 20 minutes are vital’: Young Pride hope to challenge alpha Lions
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JOHANNESBURG - "I think to catch Test players off guard is a difficult thing," Ivan van Rooyen answered honestly after pondering the question of whether the Sigma Lions can shock the touring British & Irish Lions this weekend.
"There is also an understanding that they arrived on Monday," the Lions coach continued, "and they probably had two or three sessions. There is a slight door that might be open there but, obviously, for that to happen, for us to try and capitalise there, the start, the first 20 minutes, will be vital. They are a quality outfit and their Test caps average is probably higher than our age average."
The coach's assessment is not wrong, even if it is optimistic. The Joburgers have a massive test before them, one that will rely on a bevy of youngsters in the hopes of overcoming a battle-hardened and weathered B&I Lions outfit.
The famous red-and-white hoops will certainly be the underdogs.
The youthfulness of the Lions is epitomised by Jordan Hendrikse - the 20-year-old finds himself in the starting XV with journeyman Fred Zeilinga on the bench. It is a huge opportunity for the flyhalf to make an impression on the tour and it also reveals a sliver of Van Rooyen's game plan - a more attacking ethos that will rely on the big boot of the Baby Bok.
The most interesting selections are certainly in the front-row where Bok Ruan Dreyer, PJ Botha and Nathan McBeth get starts ahead of the power trio of Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole and Carlu Sadie - and this might be a masterstroke later in the game, if the much vaunted and valued ally - the altitude - kicks in, and their fresh legs take advantage of the highveld.
Sithole, especially, is a surprise but Van Rooyen explained his spot on the bench as a result of recently returning from injury.
Van Rooyen has also decided to rely on the young loose-trio of Francke Horn - who will captain the side - Vincent Tshituka and Sibusiso Sangweni, all under 24-years of age, to take on the aged wisdom of Taulupe Faletau, Hamish Watson, and Courtney Lawes all 29 and older.
These Young Turks, therefore, carry a massive weight of responsibility on their shoulders to imprint a memorable mark at the start on this tour.
Key to a good outing will be the Lions ability to make the right decisions, play with maturity and not be overwhelmed by the occasion.
"Clarity and confidence are two things that can assist there," explained Van Rooyen.
"If we give them (the Joburg Lions) five options and this and that, sometimes, especially with the little bit younger players, it can be demanding. So for us, it will be really simple how we want to play.
"Obviously, (we do that) through a lot of analysis of what we should expect from their side, to getting through a lot of detail of work-through video sessions, a lot of focus on what we must do in training sessions.
“Yes, they have got experience but it is also an opportunity for us to go man versus man … they (the B&L Lions) are also human beings, with two legs and two arms.
"We don't want to make it that simple but for us it will be about simplicity, confidence and clarity," said Van Rooyen.
The match is scheduled to kick-off at 6pm tomorrow.
Sigma Lions starting XV: EW Viljoen; Jamba Ulengo, Manuel Rass, Burger Odendaal, Rabz Maxwane; Jordan Hendrikse, Dillon Smit; Francke Horn (capt), Vincent Tshituka, Sibusiso Sangweni; Reinhard Nothnagel, Ruben Schoeman; Ruan Dreyer, PJ Botha, Nathan McBeth.
Replacements: Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole, Carlu Sadie, Ruhan Straeuli, Emmanuel Tshituka, Morne van den Berg, Fred Zeilinga, Dan Kriel
British and Irish Lions starting XV: Stuart Hogg (capt), Louis Rees-Zammit, Chris Harris, Owen Farrell, Josh Adams, Finn Russell, Ali Price, Taulupe Faletau, Hamish Watson, Courtney Lawes, Jonny Hill, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Wyn Jones;
Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Zander Fagerson, Iain Henderson, Sam Simmonds, Gareth Davies, Bundee Aki, Elliot Daly