JOHANNESBURG – Will Franco Mostert stay on the blindside flank or will Kwagga Smith return to the side of the scrum for the Lions’ Super Rugby showdown with the Blues at Ellis Park on Saturday?
One player though who won’t be considered for duty this weekend - or anytime soon - is Springbok flank Jaco Kriel, who’ll make Lions boss Swys de Bruin’s selection dilemma a little easier for the rest of the season.
Kriel - who hasn’t played rugby since last September when he injured his shoulder while on duty for the Springboks and underwent an operation shortly thereafter - is set for further surgery today.
The Lions confirmed yesterday the initial surgery was unsuccessful, resulting in the Bok flank having to be re-operated on and another six-month spell on the sidelines.
With a return to action then only on the cards for September, Kriel’s Lions days may well be over.
He has been linked with a move abroad, to several clubs in England and France, following this year’s Super Rugby season. The Boks, too, will probably have to do without his services for the entire year.
While Kriel’s absence will be viewed as a big blow for the Lions and the national team, his unavailability will mean fewer stressful selection meetings for De Bruin.
Already he has got used to life in Super Rugby without Kriel and in the Bok player’s absence Smith and Cyle Brink have stepped up and shown they can be relied upon without hesitation this season.
Mostert, too, played excellently on the blindside flank against the Bulls last weekend - mainly because Smith was unavailable - but with captain Warren Whiteley shining again at No 8 there are more than enough loose-forward options for De Bruin to consider.
Also, throw into the mix the likes of rookies Len Massyn and Hacjivah Dayimani and utility forward Robert Kruger and the Lions are well covered.
But what will De Bruin do this week with Smith available again?
Brink, who has started all three Lions matches so far this season, said the competition among the loose-forwards was good news for the team.
“There’s definitely some healthy competition, which is good because it shows we’ve got a lot of depth,” said Brink. “It’s a long season, there are a lot of games, and we’re going to need guys in those positions throughout the season. I think what’s good for us is that we’re able to adjust to various positions.”
Indeed. Brink himself can play on either side of the scrum, so, too, can Smith, while Mostert has shown he’s also a versatile player with plenty to offer any side.
“As long as we’re all working for what’s good for the team, the competition is good. I think we’ll see more of Franco at seven during the season, to give extra weight to the scrum and to have more lineout options ... the key thing is we’re all pretty adaptable and that’s important,” said Brink. “I’m most comfortable on the blindside of the scrum, which is more of a carrying role, but I’ll play wherever I’m needed,” he said. “I’m just happy to be getting game-time.”
The Lions are up against New Zealand opposition for the first time this season on Saturday, when the Blues visit Ellis Park and Brink believes it’s going to be a big test for his team.
“You never know what you’re going to get with them. We know that if things get too loose we’re going to have a long day at the office ... you just don’t know what to expect from them. They’re never an easy side to play against and they like to throw the ball around, but we’re in a good space.
“It’s always nice to have three wins in a row at the start ... winning away against the Bulls was a big one for us, so we’re happy.”
The Lions last played the Blues in 2016, beating them 43-5.