JOHANNESBURG - With four of the most exciting midfielders in South Africa, and a hugely talented rising star, on their books, the Lions won’t be short on centre options this Super Rugby season.
Here rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen highlights the potential and talent of the men coach Swys de Bruin has to choose from in the coming weeks and months
The two Bok players
Lionel Mapoe: The 29-year-old, 12-cap Springbok became something of a mainstay in the Lions No 13 jersey under former coach Johan Ackermann and may well be De Bruin’s first outside man as well. Blessed with speed, an eye for the gap and loads of experience, Mapoe is one of the most under-rated outside centres in SA. Boosting his selection chances is the fact that he’s comfortable on the wing as well, but most fans will want to see a 13 on his back.
Rohan Janse van Rensburg: He was sensational throughout 2016 and in the early stages of last year until injury laid him low for much of the rest of the year. But the 23-year-old returns to the Lions set-up in fine form and ready to challenge for the Bok team again, desperate to add to the one Test appearance at the end of 2016.
Not only is the centre a powerful ball-carrier, but a man with a quick turn of speed who’s often in the past left defenders clutching at air. His preferred position is inside centre, but he can play outside, too, while there’s even a chance he may deputise on the wing until Ruan Combrinck and Courtnall Skosan return from injury.
The two Bok hopefuls
Howard Mnisi: At 28, Mnisi is a man with plenty of experience behind him and had it not been for long-term injuries in the last two to three years he may well have found his way into the Bok set-up. He missed the whole of last season, just when it looked like he was ready to take his game to the next level, but he gets another shot at it in 2018.
An intelligent and smart centre who reads the game better than most, the former SA A player prefers the inside centre role, but has played outside centre on occasion. He is highly rated by De Bruin and will be pushing hard for a starting role.
Harold Vorster: Tall, strong, fast and clever Vorster returned after a long injury layoff to dominate the midfield scene in SA rugby last year and the fact he was never considered for the Boks remains a mystery. He performed consistently well through the season and it is surely just a matter of time before he gets the recognition he deserves.
He scored some wonderful tries last year by running wonderful lines at the perfect times, an indication of how well he reads the game. Best suited at inside centre, but equally destructive at No 13, Vorster can hardly be left out of a starting team.
The one with the bright future
Manny Rass: He was still at school at Paarl Boys' High two years ago, but showed then, and for the Western Province Craven Week team as well as the SA Schools team that year, that he has bright future ahead of him.
So keen were the Lions to see what he could do that De Bruin handed him a Currie Cup debut last season and the youngster never disappointed. A strong man with great ball skills and the ability to power through the smallest of gaps, the specialist outside centre will probably struggle to break into the Lions team right now but he’ll train with the seniors and learn as much as he can. At 19-years-old he’s still very young, but keep an eye out for this hugely-talented centre.