JOHANNESBURG – The loss of Tiaan Swanepoel is a huge blow to the Lions, according to teammate Wandisile Simelane, but luckily the Joburg-based outfit has the players, talent and skills to ensure that the disruption won't be season-defining.
Lions centre Simelane gave his insights on the injury of fullback Swanepoel, a leg fracture that will see the No 15 out of action for a maximum of 10 weeks, on Wednesday in an interview with Independent Media.
Said Simelane: "It is a massive blow."
"Losing anyone is a massive blow," the 23-year-old reiterated. "Losing Tiaan is even a bigger blow. As everyone knows the massive boot that he has, and how that helped us during SuperRugby Unlocked and the Currie Cup (last season). There are still many other good guys that are in the squad.
"We are fortunate to have a big squad of very good guys. I mean guys like EW Viljoen that can still slot in, Divan Russouw that can still play 15, so we still have a number of good guys that can still cover for Tiaan – but it is definitely a massive blow, especially because of his massive boot."
The Lions lost their opening encounter of the Rainbow Cup South Africa against the Bulls this past weekend, and although Viljoen had a solid outing in the 24-9 defeat, Swanepoel's injury was certainly a set-back in regards to building scoreboard pressure.
On a more personal front, Simelane still has one goal in mind.
"It is the same as everybody, the same as every player and that is to become a Springbok," said Simelane. "Whenever that might be, that will definitely be one of my biggest achievements and goals - to represent my country. Hopefully, that will come sooner, rather than later."
That goal is arguably on the horizon. After stellar performances last season, in which he was honoured as the SA Rugby Young Player of the Year award for his industrious efforts, and with a good start in his first match of the Rainbow Cup this past weekend where he was the standout performer in the Lions backline, despite the loss, Simelane will optimistically have an opportunity to kick on this weekend against the Sharks.
A victory in Durban will make his outing all the more noticeable, but another solid display will certainly pique the interests of SA Rugby director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and Bok coach Jacques Nienaber as they plot a path to victory for the upcoming British And Irish Lions Tour.
The Lions name their team to play the Sharks on Thursday.
* For more of this exclusive interview, buy Thursday's edition of The Star, in which Wandisile Simelane discusses how the Lions will go about beating the Sharks in Durban on Saturday.