JOHANNESBURG – Gianni Lombard has played a handful of games off the bench, but on Friday he will wear the all-important No 10 jersey on his back. It’s his big chance to show what he can do at a level just below Test rugby.
The talented Lombard has been given a rare start in place of the experienced Elton Jantjies in the Lions team for their Round 10 Super Rugby match against the Chiefs in Hamilton. According to coach Swys de Bruin, Jantjies needs a break and he will play from off the bench.
Lombard was a superstar at fullback for Paarl Boys High, represented the SA Schools team in 2016 and also made 10 appearances for the Junior Boks side in 2017 and last year. Comfortable at flyhalf, wing and fullback, the 21-year-old has already made a big impression at senior level.
Not too many rugby fans will forget it was he who kicked the winning penalty, from the touchline, when the Lions edged the Rebels 36-33 in Round 5, after he’d come on as a replacement for Jantjies.
“I knew when I pulled Elton off it could come down to a pressure kick at the end (to win the game),” said De Bruin after the mid-March clash at Ellis Park. “Stars are made for big moments and to slot that kick there, maybe Gianni is a future star.”
Lombard has been impressive in most of his appearances so far, coming on from the bench to add spark to a Lions team that has limped along at times this campaign. In the 31 minutes he was on the field against the Brumbies last Saturday he made 24 passes to Jantjies’ 32 and to the Brumbies’ flyhalf Christian Leali’ifano’s 19, who played the full game.
Meanwhile, De Bruin has opted to also shift Malcolm Marx to the bench this week as he, like Jantjies, has started every game so far this season. Robbie Coetzee will wear the No 2 this week.
The other big news is the return to the side at eighthman, and as captain, of Warren Whiteley. The Springbok loose-forward is back after recovering from a chest muscle injury picked up in round two and he’ll join his old pals Cyle Brink and also fit-again Kwagga Smith in a potent-looking back-row. Whiteley’s leadership, experience and calming influence will also be welcomed.
There are also changes in the second row where Stephan Lewies returns from playing flank in recent weeks to join Marvin Orie, while De Bruin has also brought back his best two props at the moment, Carlu Sadie and Sti Sithole, who both played off the bench last weekend.@jacq_west