JOHANNESBURG – Expect no surprises from Lions boss Swys de Bruin when he names his line-up later this week for his team’s 2019 opening-round Super Rugby match against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires on Saturday.
De Bruin may not have the key Bok players Ruan Dreyer, Franco Mostert, Jaco Kriel and Rohan Janse van Rensburg at his disposal - they have all opted to play their rugby in England - but the Lions boss will still be able to name nine, and maybe 10, Bok players in his starting team this week.
Scrumhalf Ross Cronje is the one Bok squad member who may or may not be fit to play this week, but all the other national players in the Lions set-up are set for duty in Argentina. If Cronje is ruled out, then Nic Groom will wear the No 9 on his back, with Dillon Smit as his back-up.
The two other positions which are not yet settled are in the forwards, where the Lions have been hardest hit by players moving abroad.
Finding a suitable replacement for tighthead Dreyer won’t be easy, but it appears De Bruin and Co will back rookie Carlu Sadie, who is on loan from the Stormers this season, while either Ruan Vermaak or Rhyno Herbst will partner Marvin Orie in the second row.
Orie, Malcolm Marx, Kwagga Smith, Warren Whiteley, Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe, Courtnall Skosan, Aphiwe Dyantyi and Andries Coetzee are the Bok players who’ll resume their normal duties for the Lions this weekend.
While the Lions have not enjoyed their trips to Buenos Aires in the past, losing all three of their previous matches in the Argentina capital - 22-34 in 2016, 24-36 in 2017 and 35-49 last year - they’ll hope playing against the Jaguares first up will give them their best chance of finally getting one over their hosts this week.
If the Lions block out their bad history of playing in Buenos Aires and don’t think about the long-haul flight and the intimidating crowd they’re going to be up against, they should have an opportunity to take advantage of any rustiness in the Jaguares’ game.
That said, the Lions, too, will not necessarily be the well-oiled machine rugby fans have become accustomed to as they look to find their feet and ease their way into the competition.
Captain Whiteley did, after all, intimate after the Sharks warm-up game last weekend that his players needed to up the intensity if they were to have any chance of winning first up this weekend.
It’s an intriguing first-up match between one of the competition’s best teams of the past three years, in the Lions, and the ever-improving and dangerous Jaguares, who at one stage last year went seven games unbeaten, including winning all their fixtures on tour in Australasia.
They also reached the quarter-finals stage.@jacq_west