WATCH: Simelane will add spark to the Lions
Former Junior Springbok star centre Wandisile Simelane will make his first start for the Lions this Super Rugby season against the Rebels in Melbourne tomorrow and his promotion to the run-on XV could not have come sooner.
The Lions, with a record of one win from four starts, desperately need a spark in their back division and Simelane is the man to provide it.
So far coach Ivan van Rooyen has been consistent in picking former Bulls and Stormers man Dan Kriel at No 12 and given both Duncan Matthews and Manny Rass opportunities at No 13.
However, neither combination has truly fired and Simelane will now get his chance in the midfield.
The 21-year-old missed the Lions’ first few games because of an apparent lack of fitness and then played off the bench in the last two outings - defeats by the Stormers and Waratahs.
Earmarked as a potential future Springbok, national coach Jacques Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus will be keen to see Simelane get some action this weekend.
The Lions youngster and the Stormers’ Rikus Pretorius are two of this country’s most exciting centre prospects, and believed to be on the national coaching team’s radar, yet neither has been given a proper opportunity in 2020.
Pretorius, like Simelane a star at Junior Springbok level, has been kept out of the Stormers team by Welsh international Jamie Roberts - something which will not sit too well with Erasmus and Nienaber.
Desperate to pick up a win on their Australasian tour before heading to New Zealand next week for matches against the Blues and Highlanders, the Lions will hope Simelane brings some X-factor to their attack in Melbourne.
But it’s not just the speedy and skilful centre who’ll have many eyes on him tomorrow, but also veteran loose forward Willem Alberts, who’ll also start for the first time this weekend.
The 35-year-old, who started his career with the Lions before turning out for the Sharks and Stade Francais in France, has played off the bench in his team’s last two outings.
He takes the place of the injured Vincent Tshituka this week and should bring some carrying power and real presence to the Lions back-row.
One man who’s pleased to see Alberts back in Lions colours is line-out coach and former captain Warren Whiteley.
“Willem has been huge for us. He’s an unbelievable player and has lifted the spirits in the group,” said Whiteley from Melbourne.
“Having played for the Lions before, he’s passionate about the team and I’m excited to see him get a run. I know he’ll make it count.”
The other change to the team that lost to the Waratahs a week ago is at hooker where Pieter Jansen, who started the Lions’ first three games, replaces Jan-Henning Campher.
There are also some newcomers on the bench.
Veteran prop Jannie du Plessis replaces Frans van Wyk after sitting out last week’s match, while wing Courtnall Skosan and flyhalf Shaun Reynolds join scrumhalf Morne van den Berg as the backs replacements.
Meanwhile, the Rebels, who registered a first ever win against the Highlanders in Dunedin last weekend, are unchanged for the Lions’ visit.
Five South Africa-born players - Dane and Ross Haylett-Petty, Ryan Louwrens, Gideon Koegelenberg and Cabous Eloff - are part of the matchday 23.
Starting XV: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty (capt), 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Tom English, 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Isi Naisarani, 7 Richard Hardwick, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Gideon Koegelenberg, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Matt Gibbon
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Cabous Eloff, 19 Ross Haylett-Petty, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Frank Lomani, 22 Michael Wells, 23 Andrew Deegan@jacq_west