“Willem has been huge for us. He’s an unbelievable player and has lifted the spirits in the group”
Rising centre Wandisile Simelane will finally get his chance to show what he can do at Super Rugby level when he runs out for the Lions in their round six Super Rugby match against the Rebels in Melbourne tomorrow.
The 22-year-old has had to bide his time while Lions boss Ivan van Rooyen backed the more senior Duncan Matthews and then Manny Rass at 13 in the Lions’ previous games.
But having been earmarked for higher honours since his Junior Springbok days, Simelane now has an opportunity to show Springbok boss Jacques Nienaber and director of rugby Rassie Erasmus he is a man for the future.
He played off the bench in the last two games and only featured in five Super Rugby games last year.
Simelane is considered a potential future Bok centre, along with another former Baby Boks man, Rikus Pretorius of the Stormers. Unfortunately for the Cape-based midfielder, Wales international Jamie Roberts – who has been preferred at 12 by coach John Dobson – has kept him out of the action.
Simelane, who’s got speed, stepping skills and an eye for the gap, will hope for an extended run in the Lions No 13 jersey. He’ll line up alongside Dan Kriel this weekend – the third centre pairing for the Lions in six games.
But not only will the Lions, who’ve won only once in four outings this year, hope Simelane sparks their attacking game into action, but that another new player to the starting team, loose-forward Willem Alberts, brings the best out of the pack.
The 35-year-old, who started his career with the Lions before turning out for the Sharks and then Stade Francais, will make his first start, too, after playing off the bench in the Lions’ last two games.
He takes the place of the injured Vincent Tshituka this week and will add some bulk to the pack and give his team a greater presence up front.
Lions line-out coach and former captain, Warren Whiteley, said he was pleased to see the former Bok flanker back in Lions colours after eight years.
“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 Lions 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 scrum-half Morné van den Berg as the backs replacements.
The Rebels meanwhile, who registered a first ever win against the Highlanders in Dunedin last weekend, are unchanged for the Lions’ visit. Three South Africa-born players, scrum-half Ryan Louwrens, lock Gideon Koegelenberg and prop Cabous Eloff, are part of the matchday-23.
Following this weekend’s match, the Lions head to New Zealand for matches against the Blues and Highlanders.
Starting XV (15-1): Andries Coetzee, Tyrone Green, Wandisile Simelane, Dan Kriel, Jamba Ulengo, Elton Jantjies (capt), André Warner, Len Massyn, Willem Alberts, Marnus Schoeman, Marvin Orie, Ruben Schoeman, Carlu Sadie, Pieter Jansen, Dylan Smith. Bench (16-23): Jan-Henning Campher, Sti Sithole, Jannie du Plessis, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Hacjivah Dayimani, Morné van den Berg, Shaun Reynolds, Courtnall Skosan