The Sigma Lions coach has reverted back to his tried and trusted mid-field pairing of Burger Odendaal, who will be honoured for his 50th Currie Cup match, and Wandisile Simelane.
IVAN van Rooyen has made good on his threat to use his selection policy as a tool to spur his players into action and arrest their rapid decline by making several changes to his Lions side to face the Tafel Lager Griquas today.
Speaking after the devastating loss to the Pumas last week, Van Rooyen said he would consider making wholesale changes to his match-day squad in an effort to overturn the team’s recent run of form.
As such, the coach has wielded his axe on a handful of players, while also attempting to buffer his squad from recent injuries and an upcoming fixture list bordering on madness.
Perhaps the most noticeable absentee from the team is flank Vincent Tshituka, one of the few shining lights of the Lions this season, who has dropped out of the team completely due to an MCL injury that will see him sidelined for up to two months.
— Sigma Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) August 6, 2021
The only other injury-enforced change from the loss to the Pumas is centre Manual Rass, who suffered a quad contusion during that match.
Springbok prop Ruan Dreyer has been dropped, while hooker PJ Botha has been benched, finally uniting the potent front row of Sti Sithole, Jaco Visagie and Carlu Sadie in the starting line-up.
Reinhard Nothnagel and Ruben Schoeman have also been switched around, with Nothnagel preferred in partnership from the onset of the encounter with FP Pelser.
Ruhan Straeuli, who came on as a replacement last week, slots in for the injured Tshituka, with Travis Gordon brought in as cover.
In the backline, Van Rooyen has kept faith with his halfback pairing of André Warner and youngster Jordan Hendrikse, but has reverted back to his tried and trusted mid-field pairing of Burger Odendaal, who will be honoured for his 50th Currie Cup match, and Wandisile Simelane.
It would seem that the experiment playing Simelane at fullback has been put on hold for the moment with utility back Duncan Matthews in the starting XV at No 15.
Dan Kriel, meanwhile, is nowhere to be seen.
It has been a disappointing Currie Cup for the Lions thus far. Although they have enjoyed a measure of control in the set-pieces and have beguiled defences with a number of beautiful attacking moves and tries, they have remained largely inconsistent throughout the season.
Their work-rate at the breakdown and in defence has been frustrating to watch, and while one could argue that the relatively young side is still learning the ropes of game-management, their decision-making has not been good enough when under the pump.
The team seems to be in a rut as well, their confidence shot and mentally fragile, which is especially noticeable when they concede.
But the fact remains that if they are to have any chance of making the play-offs, they must beat Griquas handsomely in Kimberley today (kick-off 2.30pm).
But it won’t be that easy. The Joburg-based side are currently sixth in the standings on 16 points, having won only one match this campaign.
Griquas have an eight-point buffer over the Lions in third place and, much like the Pumas, believe they have a date with destiny by progressing to the knockout stages of the tournament.
• It would come as no surprise that Griquas are not entertaining talk that the Lions might be the better pedigreed team which might rain on the home team’s parade in Kimberley tomorrow afternoon.
And the Kimberley team have good reason for their confidence. The last time the two matched up in this competition was back in July at Emirates Park in Gauteng. Griquas’s good run of form saw them dominate the hosts 41-31 in that outing.
— Carling Currie Cup (@TheCurrieCup) August 5, 2021
Griquas head coach Scott Mathie spoke to the DFA about his team’s prospects against the wounded Lions. “This will be a very tough match against a Lions team that possess a lot of star players who are very dangerous,” Mathie said.
“I believe (our) team culture is strong and is a reflection on the leadership group. They have bought into how we want to play and what we want to be remembered for. It is a collective mindset to be the best we can by working the hardest we can for each other,” he added.
The Griqua coach said that though JC Nel is injured it would not impact upon his team’s morale.
“We have always said that this tournament will require a squad effort. And it is up to each squad member to make sure that they bring their part when they are called upon. We trust all of our players to make Griquas proud.
“We know that we will work for each other and represent this province with all we have,” Mathie explained.
Asked about his thoughts what ammunition the Lions would bring to this afternoon’s game and what they would have to watch out for, the coach was pretty direct that Griquas were under no illusions that this match is going to be one of the toughest in a long time.
“We are obviously expecting a really tough Lions team,” he said.
“They are presently desperate for a win and have probably the best tight five and therefore the best scrum in the competition. They really have a solid set-piece and we are going to have to deal with that, if we want to come out on top of the game.”
Mathie told the DFA that there was something else that Griquas would have to be wary of. “They will have all their Springboks back so it will be a full strength Lions team who play with a lot of tempo, so it is important that we will have to nullify that with our defence and get our own tempo game going,” the coach said.
“So it is going to be a really tough fought match,” he added.
Yet with all things considered, it would not be unwarranted for Griquas fans to expect the Peacock blues to step up again in today’s match. They have pretty much done so in practically every match during the Currie Cup this season.
And today they once again know what’s on the line.
Sigma Lions (15-1): Duncan Matthews; Rabz Maxwane, Wandisile Simelane, Burger Odendaal, Courtnall Skosan; Jordan Hendrikse, Andre Warner; Francke Horn (capt), Ruhan Straueli, Sibusiso Sangweni, Reinhard Nothnagel, FP Pelser, Carlu Sadie, Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole. Bench: PJ Botha, Nathan McBeth, Ruan Dreyer, Ruben Schoeman, Travis Gordon, Ross Cronjé, Fred Zeilinga, Stean Pienaar
Griquas (15-): Tinus de Beer, Edries Arendse, Mical Haznar, André Swarts, Eduan Keyter, George Whitehead, Stefan Ungerer, Ruan Steenkamp (capt), Sibabalo Qoma, Gideon van der Merwe, Stefan Willemse Adre Smith, Janu Botha, Mox Mxoli. Bench: Alandre van Rooyen, Andrew Kuhn, Erich de Jager, Cameron Lindsay, Luyolo Dapula, Hanru Sirgel, Raegan Oranje, Enver Brandt, Tijde Visser, Mzwanele Zito, Chris Hollis
Neville Motlhabakwe and Dave Alexander