Lions make sweeping changes after losing four times on the trot

Joburg side shows eight changes for their clash against Leinster in Dublin

24 February 2022 - 16:27
Lions captain Jaco Kriel says the team are a work in progress.
Image: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix Lions captain Jaco Kriel says the team are a work in progress.

In performance the Lions have to be barely recognisable from the team that lost four United Rugby Championship (URC) matches in a row when they meet Leinster in Dublin on Friday.

One way to bring about that kind of metamorphosis is to change personnel — and they went down that path by making eight amendments to the team that lost to the Stormers.

Two of the changes are forced as Vincent and Emmanuel Tshituka could not resolve their visa issues but elsewhere coach Ivan van Rooyen has lustily wielded the axe.

Junior Boks Ruan Venter (flank) and Quan Horn (fullback) are in the starting line-up which also features Jordan Hendrickse at flyhalf and Wandisile Simelane in midfield.

It’s an extended opportunity for them to immerse themselves into our system and ultimately express their talent on the big stage,” said Van Rooyen about Horn and Venter.

Despite his side's youthful look, Van Rooyen wants his team to play with greater maturity than has been the case in their past four matches. Though the Lions aren't serial miscreants, playing a champion side like Leinster on their home patch will require extreme levels of discipline if they wish to remain in the contest.

Maintaining discipline

“We are now the best disciplined team in the competition in terms of penalties conceded,” reminded Van Rooyen. “I want to challenge that. To give yourself the best opportunity to beat Leinster at home you probably have to have a go at ruck time and at set piece and not allow them to play with quick ball. It will be a fine balance for us pushing the boundaries to get the benefit but staying legal. We can't hold guys back or not roll out of a ruck. We have to stay squeaky clean in terms of what we can control in discipline,” said Van Rooyen.

The Lions woke up to snow in Dublin on Thursday and duly marked the occasion with obligatory social media snaps. There will be no snow at the RDS Stadium on Friday but playing in two degrees and a stiff breeze will likely prove a challenge.

“It's about experiencing new things and having the mindset of mentally stepping up,” said Van Rooyen.

Captain Jaco Kriel also recognised that the Lions will have to operate outside their comfort zone. “It is definitely a different challenge to playing in the southern hemisphere,” said Kriel.

“We played Ulster last year and they showed they can keep the ball for multiple phases. Leinster are probably the best team in the competition at keeping ball through phases, irrespective of the weather.

Work in progress

“It has not been a great start to the year for us. We are a work in progress. The guys are buzzing to be away and building culture,” said Kriel.

Kriel went on to remind that the Lions are not in Dublin just to make up the numbers but to potentially turn around their season.

Lions to play Leinster — Quan Horn; Stean Pienaar; Wandisile Simelane; Burger Odendaal; Edwill van der Merwe; Jordan Hendrikse; Morne van den Berg; Francke Horn; Ruan Venter; Jaco Kriel (captain); Ruben Schoeman; Peter-John Steenkamp; Carlu Sadie; Jaco Visagie; Sithembiso Sithole. Substitutes: Pieter Botha; Morgan Naude; Ruan Dreyer; Lunga Ncube; Sibusiso Sangweni; Nico Steyn; Manuel Rass; Tiaan Swanepoel.

Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)

Kickoff: 21.35 (SA time)