A fit and fighting Lions roaring to go in the Rainbow Cup
With exactly a week to go before their opening match of the Rainbow Cup, Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen has one less thing to worry about - the health and fitness of his players.
In an interview earlier this week with Independent Media, Van Rooyen admitted as much, and Lions fans will be pleased to know that despite one or two long-term injuries as yet unresolved and the departure of captain Elton Jantjies to French club Pau, the coach is confident that his players are in a good space.
Said Van Rooyen on the health of his players: "It's good. Obviously, Jaco (Kriel) is still out for a while but Sti (Sithole) is training, Roelof (Smit) is training. So, we are healthy."
One player that the Lions have seen desperately little of since his joining the union, is Springbok Jamba Ulengo. The 31-year-old wing has had a tough time of it of late, but has now recuperated from a knee injury sustained in December last year.
"(Ulengo) has been training hard for the last week or two," Van Rooyen revealed, "so that injury did take quite a bit of time to heal and to get him back to fitness. It is nice to see Jamba training flatout this last week. When we choose the team, probably by Friday, he will be available and eligible, which is good for us.
"We've got good numbers on the wing and they all offer you something different and they are all in form, to be honest. We are spoilt for choice but that also makes it difficult. The players are training well, and could potentially play well and be selected, so it's a good but tough position to be in."
Those players Van Rooyen is referring to include Springbok Courtnall Skosan, Rabz Maxwane, Stean Pienaar and utility-back Divan Rossouw. Dillon Smit can also run out on the wing, as can EW Viljoen, and with the now added consideration of Ulengo in the mix, Van Rooyen will have to make big decisions in the coming week. Van Rooyen also revealed his conviction that his team are healthy depth-wise, despite the temporary transfer of Jantjies and the earlier loss of Bok lock Marvin Orie.
"There isn't necessarily a position where I think, 'jiss, we are short here'," said the coach.
"Replacing Elton will be a good opportunity for someone, replacing Marvin will be a good opportunity for a No 5 lock to put his hand up. Apart from that, there hasn't really been any big changes, so it is time for someone like Wilhelm, or (MJ Pelsner or Reinhard Nothnagel) to step up in that five spot.
"There hasn't been much disruption. If you think of the squad that played in the preparation series, it's just Elton, who is on a short-term loan. Apart from that, everyone is either returning from injury and there isn't any other massive concerns.
"We are in a good, healthy squad space," Van Rooyen reiterated.
The Lions will next week begin their preparation for their opening Rainbow Cup encounter against northern neighbours, the Bulls, in earnest, followed by two home clashes against the Sharks and Stormers. A decision regarding any matches thereafter, will be taken in the next week or so when the Prorugby Board meets to decide the fate of the tournament.