Jantjies returns to lead his hungry Lions against Griquas
JOHANNESBURG - Forgive the cliche, but the Emirates Lions are roaring to go.
It has been a tough fortnight for the Johannesburg team as they have battled to contain, quite successfully mind you, an outcropping of a Covid-19 cluster that has seen them place 11 of their players into self-isolation during that time.
As explained on Wednesday, and after a battery of tests on Tuesday to ascertain if any more players have been infected by the virus, the Lions revealed that all the results had returned as negative. This past week, the team has been training from home individually, while receiving updates and instruction via online interactions.
The disruption to their training, however, has had little impact on their preparation, mental health and gameplan, if coach Ivan van Rooyen and captain Elton Jantjies are to be believed, as they get ready to return to the field on Friday against the Griquas (kick-off 7pm) at Emirates Airline Park in round 4 of SuperRugby Unlocked.
Said the coach: "We really feel that transparency and honesty is the way to go with the players ... Yesterday, and the day before, we had Zoom meetings regarding what is happening, regarding how we want to play.
"I really need to commend the players. We really feel that mentally they are in a good space. They understand what is happening, they understand what we want to achieve."
It was a sentiment that was echoed by Jantjies, now back in the starting XV after overcoming a slight calf muscle injury that ruled him out of the cancelled Cheetahs game this past weekend.
"We were in lockdown for seven months," said the pivot rather stoically. "Being in lockdown for three days or two days, it's easy to remain positive."”
Back on the training pitch. pic.twitter.com/NVH4Z21nN5— Emirates Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) October 28, 2020
The Lions find themselves in the fortuitous position that their new found depth can now come to the fore. Despite the concerns that have swirled around their Doornfontein base, and the speculation surrounding which players will not be available for selection, they will field a powerful matchday 23 against the Griquas.
There were only four changes to the team, including Jantjies inclusion, that would have started against the Cheetahs on the weekend. Into the fullback position comes the rising talent Gianni Lombard, replacing the form-finding EW Viljoen, while wings Jamba Ulengo and Rabz Maxwane make way for Stean Pienaar and Courtnall Skosan.
Van Rooyen justified the change-up at the bookend of the backline, revealing that Pienaar and Skosan were part of the team's rotation policy.
"We would like to reward consistency," said the coach of those particular selections. "For us, Jamba and Rabz played in the first two games, and we were going to play them against the Cheetahs, but meanwhile, Courtnall and Stean have been training really well, so in that case it is just rotation.
"We are excited to see what Courtnall can do for us. He is a hard worker with experience and pace, while Stean has got a fair bit of X-factor. He is a little bit more unknown which makes him that more unpredictable."
The starting line-up sees Gianni Lombard in the number 15 jersey while Stean Pienaar and Courtnall Skosan will patrol the side-lines at wing, Wandisile Simelane will join forces with Dan Kriel at centre and MJ Pelser gets the nod as flank forward. #LIOvGRI pic.twitter.com/T13nRv6VW2— Emirates Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) October 28, 2020
Elsewhere, Van Rooyen welcomed the return of prop Ruan Dreyer, the much-loved Jaco Kriel and in-form centre Burger Odendaal back, albeit onto the bench. They are joined by lock Reinhard Nothnagel, who replaces the omitted Wilhelm van der Sluys.
As per the National Institute of Communicable Diseases' guidelines, the team will not undergo another wave of tests on Thursday, and have been cleared to play on Friday as stipulated by the protocols.
Gianni Lombard; Stean Pienaar, Wandisile Simelane, Dan Kriel, Courtnall Skosan; Elton Jantjies (captain), Morné van den Berg; Len Massyn, Vincent Tshituka, MJ Pelser, Marvin Orie, Ruben Schoeman, Carlu Sadie, Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole.
Reserves: PJ Botha, Ruan Dreyer, Jannie du Plessis, Reinhard Nothnagel, Jaco Kriel, Ross Cronjé, Burger Odendaal, Tiaan Swanepoel.
Tafel Lager Griquas:
James Verity-Amm, Ederies Arendse, Harlon Klaasen, André Swarts, Eduan Keyter, George Whitehead (capt), Zak Burger, Carl Els, Stefan Willemse, Gideon van der Merwe, Adré Smith, Mzwanele Zito, Ewald van der Westhuizen, HJ Luus, Andrew Beerwinkel;
Reserves: Monde Hadebe, Mox Mxoli, John-Roy Jenkinson, Johan Momsen, Ewan Coetzee, Theo Maree, Tinus de Beer, Masixole Banda, Bandisa Ndlovu, CJ Velleman, Jonathan Francke.