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Lions will scrum towards the Stormers’ elephant in the room

The Emirates Lions captain Warren Whiteley was cleared on Friday morning by the medical team and joins the team on their Australasia tour.
The Emirates Lions captain Warren Whiteley was cleared on Friday morning by the medical team and joins the team on their Australasia tour.
Image: The Lions/Twitter

If there’s an elephant in the room‚ there’s often no point scrumming away from it. At least that’s the way the Lions say they will approach the Stormers’ monster pack in their Super Rugby Unlocked clash at Newlands on Saturday.

The last time the teams met at the end of last month‚ the Stormers manhandled the Lions’ scrum in their friendly clash at Loftus. The men from the Cape are likely to again want to come to grips with the visitors at close quarters on Saturday.

“We believe we are on the up‚” Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen noted in understated tone. “I think we had a confident appearance against the Sharks. We are not in denial about what is coming this week. We are prepared for that.

“I think what the Rugby World Cup showed us is that competitions can be won with a dominant pack. Our pack has come along in leaps and bounds. We are ready for that battle.

“We know they want to go to their set piece‚ so for us it is to control what we can control in the set piece. On their ball put enough pressure on them so that they feel it. I’m sure they have one or two things set-piece-wise. We need to make some plans around that.”

Their last clash was very much a clichéd game of two halves with the Stormers effectively winning the match with the massive forward grunt in the first 40 minutes before Van Rooyen’s team had the lion’s share of the ball in the second.

Van Rooyen‚ however‚ did not invest too much in that clash by way of tactical nuance‚ which drags this weekend’s game closer to the unknown.

“We didn’t go into the friendly match with a lot of plans against them. We wanted to see where we were as a team. There is a bit of planning and a bit of chess going into this one. Definitely a different plan this time‚” said the coach.

Although the Lions lost to the Sharks last weekend Van Rooyen was pleased with the second-half effort‚ noting his team had picked up momentum and confidence.

To that end he has made just one enforced change to the team with scrumhalf Morne van den Berg replacing scrumhalf Dillon Smit who has been sidelined for six months with a shoulder dislocation.

Van den Berg has drawn comparisons with former Lions player and World Cup-winner Faf de Klerk.

“I don’t like comparing players but he definitely has fight in him‚” said Van Rooyen. “Everyone compares him to Faf. Their build is the same‚ their height‚ their hair colour is about the same. Faf definitely has fight and I can assure you ‘Krappies’ [Van den Berg] has it as well.”

Van den Berg’s recent performances made his selection an obvious one.

“There were perhaps one or two kicks that weren’t accurate but I think if you look at his work rate and look at what he brings I’m glad we can start with him‚” said Van Rooyen about the scrumhalf’s performance against the Sharks.

“He deserves it after the last two performances. It is only his fifth or sixth senior game.”

The Lions again opted to take 10 substitutes on the road and will assess the conditions before culling two.

The Lions team to play the Stormers – EW Viljoen; Jamba Ulengo‚ Burger Odendaal‚ Dan Kriel‚ Rabs Maxwane; Elton Jantjies (captain)‚ Morne van den Berg; Len Massyn‚ Vincent Tshituka‚ Jaco Kriel; Marvin Orie‚ Willem Alberts; Carlu Sadie‚ Jaco Visagie‚ Sti Sithole. Substitutes: Jan-Henning Campher‚ Dylan Smith‚ Wiehahn Herbst‚ Wilhelm van der Sluys‚ MJ Pelser‚ Hacjivah Dayimani‚ Ross Cronje‚ Gianni Lombard‚ Wandisile Simelane‚ Ruan Dreyer.