JOHANNESBURG - In just over a week the Lions get their 2018 Super Rugby challenge under way, with a home clash against the Sharks, and for new coach Swys de Bruin a number of tough selection decisions await.
His squad of 40-odd players featured in an internal trial in Secunda on Tuesday night, where they have been in camp, all hoping to make a big impression. Here rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen highlights the tough calls awaiting the coach
When they’re fit and firing Ruan Combrinck and Courtnall Skosan will be the first-choice men, but both are sidelined and won’t feature for some time. De Bruin will thus have to consider the versatile Sylvian Mahuza, who has a fair amount of experience, and rookies Madosh Tambwe and Aphiwe Dyantyi. Tambwe played in a number of games last year and looked comfortable in Super Rugby, but Dyantyi has yet to feature at this level. Of course, De Bruin could consider one of his many specialist centres on the wing, most probably Lionel Mapoe, who started his career out wide. Either way, the Lions have great depth and should be well-covered in the wing department.
Shifting Mapoe to the wing, if only for the time being, would relieve some of the stress facing De Bruin, who also has to consider Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Harold Vorster and the fit-again Howard Mnisi. Just who the coach will go with will only be revealed next week, but don’t be surprised if it’s Janse van Rensburg and Vorster; the former coming off a quality two-month stint with Sale Sharks in England and a player with real X-factor, while Vorster was certainly the best of the Lions’ midfielders during 2017. Mnisi may for now play off the bench, to possibly get him up to speed regarding match sharpness, but he is a player De Bruin will not ignore for long.
The Golden Lions Referees' High Performance Squad had their fitness test at Johannesburg Stadium on Wednesday, 07/02.
According to Theuns Naude, Referee Manager at the GLRU, he was very happy with the standard of fitness that was displayed this early in the season.#TheLionsWay pic.twitter.com/hm1gAsXKYk
Well, Ruan Ackermann is no longer available - now playing under his dad, former Lions coach Johan, at Gloucester in England - and his absence will certainly be felt over the coming months. Also, Jaco Kriel is still sidelined, while Warren Whiteley is only recently back from a long injury layoff, so it’s not as if it’s a settled loose-trio that will go into the Sharks clash. Whiteley will however captain the side at No 8 and expect Kwagga Smith to come in from the Sevens team to play at either openside or blindside. Who their partner in crime will be is anyone’s guess - Robert Kruger, Hacjivah Dayimani, Cyle Brink, Willie Engelbrecht, Len Massyn or Pumas star Marnus Schoeman?
Franco Mostert has become a key figure for the Lions, with his work-rate and defensive abilities making him one of the best locks in South Africa. He’s sure to play another big role over the coming months. But who’ll partner him next week and beyond is a big mystery. Andries Ferreira, the under-rated No 4 who shone throughout last season, is injured, while there have also been some concerns around Lourens Erasmus’ readiness for next week. Rookie Rhyno Herbst is an option, but he has yet to show he is ready for the big step-up, but there is also Marvin Orie to be considered and it looks as if he will be part of the match-day squad.
The eight men who’ll warm the bench are just as important as those who start the game and again De Bruin has a few big calls to make. He no longer has the X-factor of Faf de Klerk to call on or Ackermann to cover lock and flank while Jaco van der Walt, Elton Jantjies’ long-time back-up at 10, is also no longer a Lions player. Flyhalves Ashlon Davids and Shaun Reynolds are vying for a spot on the bench, while Marco Janse van Vuren and Christiaan Meyer are in a tussle to be Ross Cronje’s back-up. And, any one of a number of forwards can be considered by De Bruin to make the impact off the bench... decisions, decisions.