Seasoned Lions flanker Schoeman excited to mix it up with Boks Alberts and Kriel
JOHANNESBURG – Seasoned Lions flanker Marnus Schoeman is excited about the prospect of potentially playing in a back-row including Springbok stars, Willem Alberts and Jaco Kriel – two hardened campaigners who have rejoined the Joburg franchise from overseas clubs.
At 31 and with several Super Rugby games behind him, the blond-haired open-side terrier is very much the senior among the current Lions loose-trio contingent. Len Massyn, Hacjivah Dayimani, Ruan Vermaak, Reinhard Nothnagel and Vincent Tshituka are all rookies who’re still making their way in Super Rugby, so the addition of Alberts (35) and Kriel (33) to the player group will only make things a little easier for Schoeman.
“Look, the guys who’ve been playing up to now have done brilliantly,” said Schoeman on the eve of the Lions’ departure to Australasia for four matches.
“Sure, we’ll miss guys (like Warren Whiteley, who is injured), but other players have stepped up; everyone has their own personality.
“Willem (who enjoyed his first bit of action from the bench against the Stormers last weekend) has been massive for us,” said Schoeman. “He’s such a good, funny guy, but you certainly don’t want to be in his channel on the field.
“And Jaco is such a quality player. I’m looking so forward to maybe playing with him, because we don’t have to only be competing for one spot (open-side flank). But his presence in the team will definitely lift everyone’s game.”
Schoeman joined the Lions in 2018 as a replacement of sorts for Kriel, who joined Gloucester, while Alberts left the Joburg team several years ago to play for the Sharks. He then later played for Stade Francais in France.
But while Alberts got some game time behind him last weekend, Kriel is still some way off playing again. He, however, trained freely on his own at Joburg Stadium on Thursday morning and later said, “The ankle feels good; it’s my lungs that are hurting.”
It is expected that the flanker will be ready to play when the Lions return from their overseas tour, which includes two matches in Australia and two in New Zealand.
Lions collision and breakdown coach, Philip Lemmer, was also excited about Alberts and Kriel getting back into action for the three-time competition runners-up.
“Everything Jaco does is exceptional,” said Lemmer. “I’m looking forward to having him back on the field; he’ll be a burst of energy for this young Lions team.
“And Willem has already made his mark; you could see a change in the players last week when he featured against the Stormers. He leads by example and challenges the young guys and I think Jaco will have the same impact and influence when he returns.”
Lemmer, who has coached the Lions to the top spot for ball retention at the breakdowns with a success rate of 97%, added last week’s strong performance against the Stormers had boosted the squad ahead of the overseas tour.
“A lot of people thought the Stormers would win by 20 points, but in the end we were unlucky to lose,” he said. “The performance definitely sparked a belief in the players and if there’s one thing you want before you go on tour it is belief. I think it could be an exciting tour.”
The Lions will be first up against the Waratahs in Sydney next Friday – a team they beat 29-0 last year. “They’ll be desperate (after losing three in a row this year),” said Lemmer, “and they’ll know full well what happened last year, so it won’t be an easy start for us.”@jacq_west