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Lions shake up den

URC players unleashed for Currie Cup clash against the Blue Bulls

Liam Del Carme Sports reporter
Lions chief executive Rudolf Straeuli assured the Lions still have a recruitment policy in place.
Lions chief executive Rudolf Straeuli assured the Lions still have a recruitment policy in place.
Image: Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images

The Lions spectacularly reversed their decision of running separate squads in the United Rugby Championship (URC) and Currie Cup when they on Friday named their team to play the Blue Bulls in the latter competition.

They named a starting team for Saturday's clash at Loftus Versfeld that has pretty much campaigned throughout the URC but went a step further by handing the coach's headphones and microphone to Ivan van Rooyen at the expense of Mzwakhe Nkosi for the encounter.

Such was the sensitivity around the selections and the recent defections Lions CEO Rudolf Straeuli decided to confront the media.

“Every time we had a week off we found that the team wasn't prepared the after week, like against Connacht,” Straeuli explained. “That's why we decided to take this route in preparation for our game next week against the Dragons and that's why Ivan will coach this weekend,” he added.

Off the pace

Their decision to run separate squads at the start of the campaign has in large part contributed to their off-the-pace performances in the Currie Cup.

Straeuli feels the decision to shake things up for this weekend is not a reflection of Nkosi's abilities. “We were happy with the appointment but we knew it was going to be a challenge. That's why we are looking at the last few games. We are happy with our coaches. We knew that this was going to be challenging. He is not measured on the results of the Currie Cup season. Mzwakhe has done a sterling job developing some of these players,” said Straeuli.

Nkosi said he supports the decision. “It only makes sense that the guys are led by the guy who has coached them the last year or so,” he said about Van Rooyen. “It makes no sense for me to coach a 90% URC team. In terms of calls and synergy it only makes sense for Cash (Van Rooyen) to coach the team. It has been a tough campaign for us and for the management too.

“We have had a few players graduate to the URC and that will help alleviate the gaps of players leaving.”

Brave face

On the subject of players leaving Straeuli tried to put on a brave face. The Lions have been buffeted by player losses since 2018 when they reached the last of three consecutive Super Rugby finals.

Straeuli said the Lions are in a recruitment process but that the overall system would be put to a review before next season. He added that reports of player defections, most notably flank Vincent Tshituka and tighthead prop Carlu Sadie to the Sharks, were premature.

He said he was hoping to reach an amicable agreement with the Sharks about Tshituka whose contract expires in December and Sadie's in June. “Otherwise we reserve our rights,” Straeuli warned.

He only confirmed the departure to Wasps of Burger Odendaal whose contract concludes in October.

Interestingly, Tshituka does not feature in their squad for Loftus. He is said to have a slight concussion, while brother Emmanuel has an ankle injury.

The Lions team to play the Blue Bulls is — Quan Horn; Stean Pienaar, Wandisile Simelane, Burger Odendaal (captain), Edwill van der Merwe; Jordan Hendrikse, Morne van den Berg; Francke Horn, Ruan Venter, Sibusiso Sangweni; Reinhard Nothnagel, Ruben Schoeman; Ruan Dreyer, Jaco Visagie, Sti Sithole. Substitutes: PJ Botha, Heiko Pohlmann, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Cal Smid, Jarod Cairns; Andre Warner, Henko van Wyk, Tiaan Swanepoel.

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