Fred Zeilinga joins Lions squad for last game of tour as flyhalf cover
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Johannesburg – Fred Zeilinga has joined the Emirates Lions squad for the last of their United Rugby Championship tour match in Europe this weekend.
The 28-year-old flyhalf will act as cover, and could even start this weekend against Ulster if the need at pivot so requires, after the long-term injury to Jordan Hendrikse against Scarlets two Saturday’s ago and the more recent injury to Eddie Fouche last week, created a crisis at 10 for the Joburg-based team.
Moreover, it is a stroke of luck for Ivan van Rooyen and Co.
Until last week, no South African was permitted into the UK without a required and expensive 10-day quarantine period due to this country being red-listed because of Covid-19. On Monday, SA was officially removed from that list, opening up travel between the two countries and easing restrictions when entering the UK and Northern Ireland.
It is for this reason that Zeilinga will be able to join his teammates in Belfast, Northern Ireland, this week without any repercussions. He will also be relatively fresh, due to the fact that it is a much shorter travel period, while there is a limited crossing of time-zones to the UK than what was expected when playing previously in Super Rugby.
Travel fatigue and jet-lag should, therefore, not be of concern.
Zeilinga has not set tongues-a-wagging while playing for the Lions, however, and it will be interesting to see if Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen will stick with EW Viljoen at flyhalf this weekend, or immediately use the services of the former Cheetahs player. Viljoen was pretty solid in the position against Glasgow this past Saturday, if not spectacular, and he also managed to slot over some crucial penalties that kept the Lions within a sniff of victory.
His preferred position is at full-back, and in the Scarlets game Viljoen was one of the standout performers in that loss, playing from the back with confidence and intent.
Elsewhere, the Lions have also lost the services of loan Pieter Jansen van Vuren, who will return to the country, after he injured his MCL in the Glasgow loss. No time-frame for his recovery was indicated by the union in the statement.
Van Vuren has paired with Ruben Schoeman in the second row in all three matches of the tour, with Reinhard Nothnagel deputising off of the bench in those games. Van Rooyen can call upon the unused Wilhelm van der Sluys and Emmanuel Tshituka at lock when he selects his matchday 23 to face the Ulstermen on Thursday.
"It's always unfortunate losing players to injury, but those are the realities of rugby," said Van Rooyen in a statement sent out by the union on Monday. "We welcome Fred to the group and wish Pieter, Jordan and Eddie a speedy recovery."
The match against the Irish club, who currently top the log alongside Munster on 15 points, kicks off on Friday at 8.35pm.