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No end to options for Lions

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The Lions coach flexed his tactical muscle with another team packed full of enviable depth that comprises experienced campaigners and up-and-coming youngsters.

Emirates Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen has the luxury of being able to test the depth of his squad. File Picture: Muzi Ntombela, BackpagePix

THE RUGBY gods continue to smile down on the Lions and their selection policy after coach Ivan van Rooyen once again picked an experimental side to take on the Stormers in their final preparation match on Saturday (Cape Town Stadium, 5.15pm).

Van Rooyen flexed his tactical muscle with another team packed full of enviable depth that comprises experienced campaigners and up-and-coming youngsters.

These matches have certainly unearthed a new batch of young players and new combinations at the Lions, while also continuing the growth and readiness of the squad’s first-choice players.

As such, Van Rooyen again has the luxury of selecting a team that has the best of both worlds as he gets the union ready for the highly anticipated Rainbow Cup in April.

The biggest change to the Lions’ combinations is arguably in the loose forwards. Only Vincent Tshituka, who had a stellar match against the Sharks last weekend, remains in the starting XV. He is joined by No 8 Len Massyn and the exciting talent that is 20-year-old Sibusiso Sangweni.

Vincent Tshituka of the Lions. Picture: Sydney Seshibedi, Gallo Images

Said Van Rooyen on that particular selection: “We really think that MJ (Pelser) was good for us last week, but this is a great opportunity for Sbu to start against a quality team like the Stormers.

“(Sangweni) is comfortable at six, (and) at eight, and we want to see what he can bring for us against a team like this. He is nice and mobile, he is quick, he is a great defender.

“It’s the same for Len … Even though he is still quite young, he has great experience and it is an opportunity for him to get into form.”

Van Rooyen has also introduced PJ Botha at hooker to the starting line-up in a straight swap with Jan-Henning Campher, to see what the latter can bring off of the bench.

The exemplary Sti Sithole is still battling a hamstring niggle and will again miss out on this match, which will see Springbok Ruan Dreyer remain at loosehead prop.

So too has there been a switch-up among the locks with Ruben Schoeman and Reinhard Nothnagel now starting, and Wilhelm van der Sluys dropping to the bench, while Springbok Willem Alberts is rotated out of the match day squad.

The backline has also been tinkered with.

EW Viljoen returns from injury in the No 15 jersey in place of Tiaan Swanepoel. Wing Rabz Maxwane, the top try-scorer in the 2019 Pro14, makes a welcome return after a handful of months on the sideline, as does Stean Pienaar, who was one of the standout performers for the Joburg-based team last season.

Former Cheetahs back Fred Zeilinga will again come off the bench as Van Rooyen continues to investigate his presence at the union.

Lions Starting XV: EW Viljoen, Stean Pienaar, Wandisile Simelane, Dan Kriel, Rabz Maxwane, Elton Jantjies (capt), Ross Cronje; Len Massyn, Vincent Tshituka, Sibusiso Sangweni, Reinhard Nothnagel, Ruben Schoeman, Carlu Sadie, PJ Botha, Ruan Dreyer. Bench: Jan-Hennis Campher, Nathan McBeth, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Morne van den Berg, Fred Zeilinga, Burger Odendaal