Lions at full strength ahead of URC clash against Cardiff at Ellis Park
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Johnnesburg – The Emirates Lions are in fine fettle ahead of their United Rugby Championship (URC) match against Cardiff Rugby, coach Ivan van Rooyen revealed in a media briefing on Tuesday.
After a month-long hiatus from the tournament, due to the End of Year Tours being played in Europe this past month, the Joburg-based outfit will begin anew on Sunday at Emirates Airline Park (kick-off 4pm) against the Welsh franchise.
“It’s nice having a full squad training,” said Van Rooyen.
“Someone like Willem Alberts that missed the previous tour, is now training full out. Tiaan (Swanepoel) is training flat out.
“He still had one or two little defects but up to this stage he is training well and starting to kick the ball back to his normal distances ... we don’t expect anything massive injury wise and we should be at full strength.”
The reintroduction of Swanepoel will come as a massive relief to the team and supporters, especially if the utility-back is ready to play against Cardiff. Prior to the break, the Lions suffered a crisis at flyhalf after losing Jordan Hendrikse and Eddie Fouche within a week.
It forced Van Rooyen to select EW Viljoen at pivot, and although the 26-year-old put in a competent shift against Glasgow and Ulster out-of-position in the No 10 jersey, the Lions will nevertheless be pleased to have recognised flyhalves marshalling the troops in the next fortnight.
And there was more good news specifically in that department, with both Van Rooyen and Lions Rugby Company Rudolf Straeuli, who also sat in on the call, officially confirming the acquisition of Baby Bok Vaughen Isaacs on a three-year-deal.
Said Van Rooyen: “Eddie joined training last week, so he is training full out.
“Fred (Zeilinga) is in the squad; James Tedder, who is on loan, is in the squad; (Isaacs) is in the squad; and like we saw in the last two games on tour, EW assisted there. So, there is ample opportunity there for all of them.”
The Lions are currently 13th in the standings, having won one of their four encounters. This weekend they will have the benefit of home ground advantage, the return of a limited number of fans to the stadium, and the effects of altitude; although the weather is expected to be cold and wet.
Nonetheless, and as noted by Van Rooyen, the clash against the seventh-placed Cardiff, who have won three of their five matches, will be a tough assignment.
“It will be the first game in four weeks,” said Van Rooyen, “and the first time we are going to play again in front of South African fans and that in itself is exciting.
“We are under no illusion that Cardiff will be tough. I think they travel with 14 international players. So, we have worked really, really hard as a group the previous three weeks to not just improve as individuals, but also the system.”
The Lions matchday 23 to face Cardiff is expected to be announced on Friday.