Lions coach Johan Ackermann has thrown flyhalf Lionel Cronje, centres Harold Vorster and Stokkies Hanekom, flank Warwick Tecklenburg, and lock Franco Mostert straight into the fray as the Lions begin a new era on Saturday night.
They have, however, also chosen their strongest available combination –barring the injured Jaco Kriel, Alwyn Hollenbach, Ruan Combrinck and Deon van Rensburg, — endorsing the feeling that the Johannesburg-based franchise are eager to begin their new era with winning momentum.
“Every game will be important for us, but it’s especially important that we start this tournament well. I’m happy with the mix of players I’ve got, we have the opportunity now to try a few players but there will be a time closer to the end of the competition when I’ll have to settle on number one and number two in every position,” Ackermann said at the team announcement on Thursday.
“We want to fine-tune our game, get some conditioning and continuity going, especially getting the new players to gel, and it will be our first real contact because we haven’t had a lot up till now. We want to get our style of play going too, but really I just want to win and get the guys out on the pitch.”
Russia are the first of three international teams that the Lions will be playing, but they know little about their opening opposition, save for the likelihood that their strength will be concentrated in their pack.
“They traditionally like to keep the ball in front of their forwards.
But we enjoy it when teams come here to scrum because we enjoy that too!” Lions captain and loosehead prop JC Janse van Rensburg said.
Ackermann said he had been impressed with the quality of Russia’s play earlier this week in a game against the University of Johannesburg and, despite recent losses to the USA and Canada, he did not believe the Bears would be pushovers.
The Lions have been bolstered by the arrival of players with SuperRugby experience such as Cronje and Tecklenburg. The talented youngsters have both turned their backs on the Bulls, along with promising lock Mostert.
SA U20 cap Vorster and former South-Western Districts centre Hanekom have been paired together and, being big, tall and fast, should provide go-forward for the Lions in midfield.
Team: 15-Andries Coetzee, 14-Deon Helberg, 13-Stokkies Hanekom, 12-Harold Vorster, 11-Anthony Volmink, 10-Lionel Cronje, 9-Michael Bondesio, 8-Willie Britz, 7-Derick Minnie, 6-Warwick Tecklenburg, 5-Franco Mostert, 4-Hendrik Roodt, 3-Ruan Dreyer, 2-Martin Bezuidenhout, 1-JC Janse van Rensburg. Substitutes – 16-Francois du Toit, 17-Jacques van Rooyen, 18-Jacques Kotze, 19-Hugo Kloppers, 20-Claude Tshibidi, 21-Ross Cronje, 22-Marnitz Boshoff, 23-Ruhan Nel.