Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen left no doubt to the way his side will approach their match with the British and Irish Lions on Saturday, saying they would “have a full go” when they meet the tourists.
The opening game of the tour sees the two different Lions breeds go head-to-head, with the local franchise adding a sponsor — Sigma — to differentiate themselves.
And while their selection was not as expected — there was no place for Springbok veterans Jannie du Plessis and Jaco Kriel — they went with an inexperienced, young squad full of talent that will either surprise or be shown up against a touring squad that is full of Test veterans. “Their average Test caps is higher than our average age,” Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen joked during the team announcement, and he wasn’t wrong.
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In facing what is essentially a very strong Lions side, Van Rooyen has opted not to start with his normal front row, leaving Sti Sithole and Carlu Sadie on the bench while going with Nathan McBeth and Ruan Dreyer, which will surprise many.
And in the loose trio he has gone with young and talented guys, which together don’t have as many caps as the Lions captain Stuart Hogg. Francke Horne, Vincent Tshituka and Sbusiso Sangweni are all talented, but they face a massive test against the tourists on Saturday.
“We are really excited, the opportunity for us to face 23 Test players and be the first opposition in the first game of the tour, and to test yourself against international players excites us,” Van Rooyen said. “This is the first time since March last year [when the pandemic began] that we are facing overseas opposition and not a local team. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it is logical to say we are going to have a full go in a big game like this.
“If you are too conservative and not brave in your mindset, you are going to get a hiding anyway.
“The guys are looking forward to it, this is an opportunity to be physical, to show ourselves, South Africa and the rugby world what we stand for.”
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The Lions have been in their bubble since Monday and have been tested for Covid daily, and while this is so, some of their selections will have raised eyebrows. Although some players are back after their Covid-enforced break, others like Jaco Visagie and Sadie need to play off the bench because “this was probably a week too early”.
The one player who has hit the jackpot is 20-year-old flyhalf Jordan Hendrikse, who was with the SA U20 team that faced Argentina, Georgia and Uruguay in the junior series in Stellenbosch this past week.
LIONS: 15 EW Viljoen, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Manuel Rass, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Dillon Smit, 8 Francke Horn (capt), 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Sbusiso Sangweni, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 PJ Botha, 1 Nathan McBeth. Substitutes: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Ruhan Straeuli, 20 Emmanuel Tshituka, 21 Morne van den Berg, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Dan Kriel.
BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS: 15 Stuart Hogg (capt), 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Wyn Jones. Substitutions: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Bundee Aki, 23 Elliot Daly.