5 Lions players to watch out for against the Sharks
JOHANNESBURG - The Lions will play their opening match of Super Rugby Unlocked against the Sharks on Friday night (kickoff 7pm).
As confirmed by the union, the match will count as each player’s first cap and will not be added to their current Super Rugby haul.
Here, Morgan Bolton takes a look at the five Lions players to watch in the Kings Park clash.
EW Viljoen at fullback
The newly signed Viljoen will seemingly perform a utility role in this Lions team and his selection at full-back did raise some eyebrows, especially after the solid performance of Gianni Lombard this past weekend in that position in the Springbok Showdown.
Viljoen, however, is no stranger to the No 15 jumper, having played there at junior level for SA Schools and the Baby Boks.
Coach Ivan van Rooyen believes he will add much needed stability at the back with his pace, kicking game and composure under the high ball - a tactic that will surely be used by the Sharks half-back pairing of Sanele Nohamba and Curwin Bosch.
Whether he will be the incumbent in that position remains to be seen but a good showing today will go a long way to lock down a starting berth.
Burger Odendaal at outside centre
Another player selected out of his starting position, Odendaal has a massive point to prove after his perfunctory discharge from the Bulls.
Usually an inside centre, Odendaal will don the No 13 jersey against the Sharks in a move that Van Rooyen hopes will add that much more threat on attack. With the fact that Odendaal also has the unenviable task of marking his opposite number, World Cup winner and Sharks captain Lukhanyo Am, it becomes clear why he was selected.
Odendaal will have to bring all his talents if he is to impress, however, for waiting on the bench is the exciting Wandisile Simelane, who will also want a crack at showing the coaching staff that he should be the preferred candidate in the midfield.
Elton Jantjies at flyhalf
The evergreen No 10 is the foundation upon which the Lions build their team upon.
Arguably the best distributor in the South African game, Jantjies will need to be at his best if he is to unlock the defence of the Sharks and show the rugby-loving public that he remains the incumbent at pivot, now that the Springboks have been confirmed for the Rugby Championship, and especially with Handre Pollard out injured.
Coupled with an at times uncanny boot, probing runs and vision, you’d certainly back the 30-year-old World Cup champion to win an interesting flyhalf battle.
Jaco Kriel at flank
Let’s not beat around the bush if you are a Lions fan, then you will have nothing but a Cheshire Cat-like grin curling around your face today when Kriel finally takes to the field for the Lions again.
The former captain was once the heartbeat of the team and seeing him return to the fold might well be an emotional one for many.
Kriel brings with him some much needed experience to the loose-forwards and an indelible fighting spirit that could go a long way in motivating his teammates.
Solid with ball in hand, a committed tackler, a nuisance at the breakdown and dangerous while roaming on the fringes of the backline, Kriel can do it all and will need to if he is to keep a dangerously exciting Sharks pack at bay.
Carlu Sadie at prop
The 22-year-old will have a mammoth task in front of him when he packs down opposite the powerful Ox Nche. Many regard Sadie as a future Springbok, a thought reiterated this past weekend when he participated in the Springbok Showdown.
But Nche also has a point to prove as he would desperately like to add to his singular cap for the national team.
It could well be a matter of an immovable object meeting an unstoppable force and whoever does win the arm-wrestle up front could well find their team on the way to victory.
Lions team versus Sharks
Starting XV: EW Viljoen, Jamba Ulengo, Burger Odendaal, Dan Kriel, Rabz Maxwane, Elton Jantjies (capt), Dillon Smith, Len Massyn, Vincent Tshituka, Jaco Kriel, Marvin Orie, Willem Alberts, Carlu Sadie, Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole.
Replacements: Jan-Henning Campher, Dylan Smith, Ruan Dreyer, Wiehahn Herbst, Wilhelm van der Sluys, MJ Pelser, Hacjivah Dayimani, Morne van der Berg, Gianni Lombard, Wandisile Simelane