Calf muscle niggle rules Jantjies out of Lions v Cheetahs cat-fight
JOHANNESBURG - The Emirates Lions, now battling the spectre of Covid-19, which has resulted in nine squad players becoming ineligible for selection against the Cheetahs encounter, revealed their match-day team for this weekend's clash on Thursday.
And it is not as bad as you may think.
Coach Ivan van Rooyen has made three changes to the starting XV that lost to the Stormers on the weekend. The Man of the Match of that encounter, Burger Odendaal, has been replaced by the equally exciting prospect that is Wandisile Simelane, while youngster MJ Pelser gets his first taste of SuperRugby Unlocked action, slotting in at No 6 for Jaco Kriel.
Steward and captain Elton Jantjies will be replaced by up-and-coming 22-year-old Gianni Lombard, after it was revealed that the pivot sustained a calf muscle niggle during training this week and would not be put at risk for the Lions first home game at Emirates Airline Park.
The biggest shakeup to the match day squad is to be found on the bench. Six players have been shuffled into the replacements, and even so the Lions can now boast that they have a quality of depth in the team hereto unseen this year.
All of PJ Botha, Nathan McBride, Jannie du Plessis, Marnus Schoeman, Stean Pienaar and Tiaan Swaneoel will find themselves warming up on the sideline, each itching no doubt to have a crack at the early tournament pace-setters on Saturday (kick off 4.30pm). They replace Jan-Henning Campher, Dylan Smit, Wiehan Herbst, Hacjicah Dayimani and Ruan Dreyer, respectively, in a bench that has been whittled down from a previous touring 25 to a home-based 23.
It is unknown if any of these changes, with the exclusion of the injured Jantjies, are due to the Covid-19 precautions - the practice squad does consist of 45 players after all - as the union has exercised its right to keep those affected anonymous. This includes the four players, two of which have been confirmed as already recovered from symptoms - that tested positive for the virus earlier this week.
It could well be that a number of changes are due to Van Rooyen employing a rotation policy within his squad.
In any event, those players who must now go into self-isolation, will not form part of the team's plans for at least 10 days, depending on any of them presenting symptoms and also the severity of their illness, if any.
Emirates Lions Starting XV:
EW Viljoen; Jamba Ulengo, Wandisile Simelane, Dan Kriel (captain), Rabz Maxwane; Gianni Lombard, Morné van den Berg; Len Massyn, Vincent Tshituka, MJ Pelser, Marvin Orie, Ruben Schoeman, Carlu Sadie, Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole;
Replacements: PJ Botha, Nathan McBeth, Jannie du Plessis, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Marnus Schoeman, Ross Cronje, Stean Pienaar, Tiaan Swanepoel
Cheetahs Starting XV: Clayton Blommetjies, Malcolm Jaer, Benhard Janse van Rensburg, Frans Steyn, Rosko Specman, Tian Schoeman, Tian Meyer, Jasper Wiese, Junior Pokomela (capt), Andisa Ntsila, Walt Steenkamp, Carl Wegner, Luan de Bruin, Reinach Venter, Charles Marais;
Replacements: Jacques du Toit, Boan Venter, Erich de Jager, JP du Preez, Aidon Davis, Chris Massyn, Ruben de Haas, William Small-Smith.