JOHANNESBURG – One of the major concerns for the Lions in recent years, squad wise, has been the noticeable lack of experienced depth at flyhalf, but that seems to be an anxiety that will soon be consigned to the past, according to head coach Ivan van Rooyen.
Captain Elton Jantjies has been the stalwart and the incumbent in the No 10 jersey for the team for close to a decade, marshalling the backline through the good times and the bad times, and the union has been heavily reliant on his fitness and form to sew up that particular position.
In this regard, the Joburg-based team has been blessed, as Springbok Jantjies has weathered tough encounters, big hits and testing conditions to remain at his peak for the greater majority of his tenure at flyhalf.
But, as was shown this past weekend against the Stormers, if he does pull up with an injury, the team still requires a player of equal experience to take over at pivot. It is true that Van Rooyen's team have several players on the peripheral that can take up the mantle at No 10 – Ross Cronje, Tiaan Swanepoel, and Morne van den Berg spring foremost to mind – but they are and should be preferred in their usual positions.
As such, and while speaking to Independent Media on Tuesday, Van Rooyen revealed that the trial of Fred Zeilinga had been successful, and that the union is chasing an undertaking from the former Cheetahs flyhalf.
Said the coach on Zeilinga: "We are in the process of getting a commitment.
"We feel that with Elton," Van Rooyen continued, "and the British and Irish Lions and the Springboks, it is good just to have a senior 10 in our system. The versatility that Tiaan gives us at 10 and 15 is also good but having one, older head at 10 could work for us.
"Zeilinga has joined us for four weeks, we gave him two games. Obviously, he needs some game-time and match-fitness – he hasn't played in more than a year, but I think he showed us enough for us to get excited about."
Van Rooyen also revealed that although Jantjies had injured his foot during the loss to the Stormers this past weekend, the 30-year-old "will be fine."
Other injury concerns are also on track. Prop Sti Sithole, according to Van Rooyen, is fit and raring to go and could have been in the selection mix this weekend, had the Lions needed to play a game. Roelof Smit, meanwhile, who injured his knee in late February should be back at training in a couple of weeks.