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Lions must pick youngsters to slay the Dragons for URC clash

Manuel Rass could be given some game time against the Dragon. Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix

Manuel Rass could be given some game time against the Dragon. Photo: Gerhard Duraan/BackpagePix

Published May 20, 2022

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Johannesburg - With nothing to play for but pride, cold but rain-free weather expected in Newport, and the possibility of a youngster-loaded starting XV, there is the very real possibility that the Emirates Lions will simply throw caution to the wind tomorrow and run at everything and everyone.

Head coach Ivan van Rooyen has picked a more youthful looking touring squad to select his team from, against the Dragons (kick-off 4pm) at Rodney Parade, for the Joburgers’ final match of this season’s United Rugby Championship (URC).

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Due to the omissions of Carlu Sadie, Emmanuel Tshituka and Wandisile Simelane, Van Rooyen will have a handful of untested and newly minted combinations in play.

Perhaps the most significant of those will be in the midfield.

Manuel Rass, at 24 years old and with a bit more playing experience, will be the elder statesman in the centre pairing, and will either combine with Matt More or Henco van Wyk.

ALSO READ: Who should the Boks bring in if Elton Jantjies can’t play against Wales?

Both More and Van Wyk – 23 and 22, respectively – are highly rated by the management of the Lions and Van Wyk, specifically, is being groomed as a future Springbok and replacement for Burger Odendaal.

The former Baby Bok does have the pedigree and this match could be the perfect opportunity to dump him in the deep end, at the expense of More starting.

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The Dragons encounter will, in all probability, be the final match for Vincent Tshituka at the Lions, despite any legal battles that might have to be settled in the near future between his current union and his next team, the Sharks.

Van Rooyen could opt to play him alongside Franke Horn and Sibusiso Sangweni in the absence of his younger brother Emmanuel (due to an ankle injury), but the Lions’ think-tank could also introduce Ruan Venter into the mix.

Venter has been impressive on the 10 occasions he has played for the Lions, mostly off the bench, and the 21-year-old looks a powerful ball carrier with a high work-rate.

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He could slot in at lock as well, and perhaps it is here that Van Rooyen can test him out with the stable and experienced Ruben Schoeman on the bench to steady the ship, if need be.

Sadie, meanwhile, is said to have Covid-19 but he too is on the move from the Lions, heading to the Sharks for next season.

ALSO READ: Lions CEO Rudolf Straeuli on Vincent Tshituka move: 'This is going to get ugly'

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Van Rooyen can call on Springboks Jannie du Plessis and Ruan Dreyer to slot in at tighthead, but it would arguably be better to get Asenathi Ntlabakanye packing down in the front row.

The 23-year-old has had limited opportunities in the URC due to Sadie’s impressive performances and has mostly been utilised in the failed Currie Cup campaign.

He needs a taste of something bigger, and if he is going to be the natural successor to Sadie – and the ageing duo of Du Plessis and Dreyer, then now is as a good a time as any to get him rocking and rolling for future use.

The Lions are 11th in the URC standings, while the Dragons are a lowly 15th. Victory in Newport will ensure that the Lions stay in that spot at least.

Van Rooyen is scheduled to name his match-day 23 today.

LIONS (probable): 15 Quan Horn, 14

Rabz Maxwane, 13 Manuel Rass, 12

Henco van Wyk 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Morne van den Berg, 8 Franke Horn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Sibusiso Sangweni, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel (capt), 4 Ruan Venter, 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 2 PJ Botha, 1 Sti Sithole

@FreemanZAR

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