- Twenty-two-year-old Vincent Tshituka has exemplified the Lions' new edge up front, but an untimely injury risks disrupting his momentum.
- Head coach Ivan van Rooyen admits that the blindside flanker has been hugely influential and would be missed if he can't pass a late fitness test.
- His replacement will be an interesting one: specialist lock Wilhelm van der Sluys who's subtly being retreated as a flanker.
If there's one man that's exemplified the Lions' newfound grunt since local rugby's resumption, it's Vincent Tshituka.
The 22-year-old blindside flanker, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and schooled in Johannesburg, is a lanky specimen at 1.94m, yet tipping the scales at 108kg suggests to some that he could do with a small bit of extra meat on his bones.
But his authoritative showings in the Currie Cup has exposed the folly of that thinking as he's been at the heart of the Lions' increased dominance at the collisions and rucks.
Tshituka last year admitted that he prides himself on being a ruthless tackler though his relish for contact now extends far beyond that.
15 Tiaan Swanepoel, 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Wandisile Simelane, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies (captain), 9 Andre Warner, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vincent Tshituka/Wilhelm van der Sluys, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Sti Sithole/Dylan Smith
Substitutes: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Roelof Smit, 21 Morne van den Berg, 22 Burger Odendaal, 23 Jamba Ulengo
15 Manie Libbok, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Marius Louw, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Henco Venter, 6 Dylan Richardson, 5 Aston Fortuin, 4 JJ van der Mescht, 3 Michael Kumbirai, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes: 16 Fez Mbatha, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John Hubert-Meyer, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 James Venter, 21 Phepsi Buthelezi, 22 Jaden Hendrikse, 23 Jeremy Ward
An official Man-of-the-Match performance in last weekend's stirring 39-23 victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein merely confirmed his status as one of the true rising stars at Ellis Park.
It's little wonder then that the Lions brains trust is holding thumbs that he'll be declared fit for Saturday's crunch Currie Cup match against the Sharks as he's struggling with a "niggling injury".
“I think everyone will agree Vince is in incredible form. His work rate is really high and his contribution is big in the team," said Ivan van Rooyen, the Lions' head coach.
"He's in places where other players don’t get to and he does things other players can’t do. He will be missed if he can’t play, we saw last weekend what a big impact he had in the game, and hopefully he will be ready but if he can’t, hopefully he recovers quickly."
Should Tshituka not be in consideration, the obvious route would've been to switch the experienced Willem Alberts to the No 7 jersey.
However, in an interesting development, Van Rooyen confirmed that the role would instead be handed to former Western Province, Worcester and Exeter lock Wilhelm van der Sluys.
The Lions mentor made the reasonable argument that Alberts' cracking form in the second row was perhaps more valuable than moving into a different position, but also noted that Van der Sluys has actually been earmarked to be retreaded.
"Wilhelm is a little bit of an experiment for us, he has been coming on and playing seven for us, so we’re excited to see what he does with the opportunity," said Van Rooyen.
Given his similar build to Tshituka, it's hardly a bad idea and if things don't pan out as expected, the Lions have the insurance of the versatile Roelof Smit on the bench.
"We’ve said from the beginning we have a competitive squad, it has a nice blend of seniors and juniors. It's very exciting," said Van Rooyen.
Kick-off at Ellis Park is at 19:00 on Saturday.