JOHANNESBURG – The ongoing search - albeit unofficial - for a Springbok No 9 continues this weekend and in far off Buenos Aires young Marco Jansen van Vuren gets a rare chance to stake his claim.
The 21-year-old Lions player will make his first start at Super Rugby level, running out in place of the injured - and current Springbok first choice scrumhalf - Ross Cronje in a game of big importance for the visitors.
The Lions have struggled of late, losing to the Blues and only just getting past the Sunwolves last weekend, and tomorrow they play at a venue where they haven’t won in two years.
In 2016 and 2017 former coach Johan Ackermann took weakened sides to South America and on both occasions the Lions lost. Those players who travelled there don’t have fond memories of the match, or the trip, and they can expect another challenging visit this time round.
Making their visit even more demanding this time is the fact the Lions are not in any kind of form, and they’ll also certainly have one eye on next week’s replay of last year’s final, against the Crusaders, at Ellis Park, on Easter Sunday.
Coach Swys de Bruin will hope young Jansen van Vuren can help spark the Lions into life after a disappointing last two outings.
The former SA Schools and SA U-20 scrumhalf, who many feel not only has a Joost van der Westhuizen look about him, but plays a similar game, too, will be eager to make the most of his opportunity; just as much as his coach will want him to have a successful day at the office.
The Lions have yet to find a regular back-up scrumhalf since Faf de Klerk left the union after last year’s competition and it’ll be hoped Jansen van Vuren can tick all the right boxes to make him a regular. Utility back Dillon Smit - who’s on the bench tomorrow, but has been injury-prone since joining the Lions - and fullback Andries Coetzee are the other scrumhalf options De Bruin has, and will, consider going forward.
National coach Rassie Erasmus is also on the look-out for a Test No 9 and besides Cronje and possibly Louis Schreuder, there are not too many players sticking up their hands. Jansen van Vuren will be a man Erasmus will consider for the future, but so, too, the Sharks’ Cameron Wright and the Bulls’ Embrose Papier.
There’s thus a lot more at stake in Buenos Aires tomorrow for some individuals than just the result. The Lions players though will first want a solid performance - and a win - to give them the confidence and belief before taking on the Crusaders next week.
Besides Jansen van Vuren coming into the starting team, De Bruin has also handed a start to utility forward Robert Kruger, who’ll pack down at blindside flank, with Kwagga Smith moving to No 8 and Cyle Brink returning to openside.
Captain Franco Mostert is also back in his more familiar role of lock, while in the front row, props Ruan Dreyer and Jacques van Rooyen return after a week off. Robbie Coetzee also gets a chance to start at hooker in place of Malcolm Marx.
The other big change at the back, besides the one at scrumhalf, is at centre where Rohan Janse van Rensburg comes in at 12, allowing Sylvian Mahuza to return on the right wing.
Tomorrow’s match kicks off at 9.40pm.
The Lions team is:
Andries Coetzee, Sylvian Mahuza, Lionel Mapoe, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Elton Jantjies, Marco Janse van Vuren, Kwagga Smith, Robert Kruger, Cyle Brink, Franco Mostert, Marvin Orie, Ruan Dreyer, Robbie Coetzee, Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Dylan Smith, Johannes Jonker, Lourens Erasmus, Len Massyn, Dillon Smit, Howard Mnisi, Shaun Reynolds