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Dragons to face Lions’ squires and knights-in-training

Reinhard Nothnagel of the Emirates Lions during the United Rugby Championship 2021/22 match against Ospreys held at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on 25 March 2022. Picture: Willem Loock/BackpagePix

Reinhard Nothnagel of the Emirates Lions during the United Rugby Championship 2021/22 match against Ospreys held at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on 25 March 2022. Picture: Willem Loock/BackpagePix

Published May 21, 2022


The Emirates Lions will send a skirmish of young men, full of ambition and exuberance, to slay Dragons in Newport, Wales, this weekend.

Sure, it is not the fiercest of Dragons at the moment, but as pointed out by head coach Ivan van Rooyen, it will be an important developmental test for his youthful selection. There were no real surprises dropped by Van Rooyen when he announced his matchday 23 for the Lions’ season-ending clash in the United Rugby Championship.

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But then none were expected after studying the touring squad that was revealed earlier this week.

It was clear then that it was going to be a young side and the understudies who would complete the European season for the Joburgers. And that was the case on Friday when Van Rooyen explained the approach in selection for the encounter against the Welsh outfit on Saturday (kick-off 4pm).

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“I think it is an opportunity for this group, without the senior players – like Burger Odendaal – who are not here, to find a way to pick up their standard and establish that standard going forward,” said Van Rooyen.

In almost every combination, the Lions have a youthful look to them. Some are already becoming well-established, such as the half-back pairing and the loose-forwards, while others will be new relationships on trial.

One such combo will be at lock, where 21-year-old Ruan Venter will pair with matchday captain Reinhard Nothnagel. Venter has all the trademarks of a young player that could one day become something remarkable – athletic, powerful and unafraid – so it is unsurprising that he is being touted by the union as a player to watch.

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Skipper “Notties” at 24 is no old ballie himself but he nevertheless is looking forward to playing alongside his younger second-row partner.

“Ruan is a special player,” said Nothnagel in the media briefing.

“To do what he does at his age, takes something special. I am grateful that the coaches have given him a starting chance. He is actually a shy guy at training but come game time he produces.

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“He is definitely a star for the future and I look forward to playing with and alongside him,” Reinhard reiterated.

The Lions will also sport a new midfield, Van Rooyen opting to entrust Matt More and Henco van Wyk at inside and outside centre, respectively. Manuel Rass, meanwhile, will make an appearance off the bench.

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“The combination between (More) and Henco – the one has got great distribution skills, and the other is quite an aggressive runner. Manny is comfortable to come in at No 12 or 13, if he has to.”

With the strategy regarding the selection clear, perhaps the one criticism that could be levelled against Van Rooyen and Co, is that they missed an opportunity to select Asenathi Ntlabakanye to the starting XV.

Van Rooyen, however, justified the 23-year-old tighthead prop’s impact as a replacement, saying: “The role that he can perform in that last 20 or 30 minutes is invaluable for us.

“Apart from the game time, there is him coming up and making a difference with his physicality, coming up and making a difference in X-factor. He has got unbelievable touches, especially when the defence will be more tired.”

Lions team: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Henco van Wyk, 12 Matt More, 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Morne van den Berg; 8 Francke Horn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Sibusiso Sangweni, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel (capt), 4 Ruan Venter, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Jac Visagie, 1 JP Smith.

Replacements: 16 PJ Botha, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 19 Ruben Schoeman, 20 Jarod Cairns, 21 Andre Warner, 22 Manuel Rass, 23 Tiaan Swanepoel.