Cape Town — Gianni Lombard will make his return to big-time South African rugby when he lines up at flyhalf for the Lions in Saturday’s United Rugby Championship clash against the Ospreys.
The 24-year-old Paarl Boys High School prodigy played off the bench in the last few minutes of last week’s 31-15 loss to the Bulls at Ellis Park, but now gets a welcome chance to show his class once more in the No 10 jersey in Swansea.
It is a bit of a surprise selection made by coach Ivan van Rooyen on Thursday, considering that the man Lombard is replacing is Springbok prospect Jordan Hendrikse, whose two missed goal-kicks in the Bulls game may have been part of the reason for his relegation to the bench this weekend.
But there is no doubting Lombard’s ability to make things happen on attack either. A few serious injuries have held him back in his career – which saw him spend a year in Japan at the NTT Red Hurricanes to find his feet again – but he has the speed and skill to help the Lions unlock the Ospreys defence.
It won’t be an easy outing, though, as Lombard will be up against experienced Wales Test pivot Gareth Anscombe.
Van Rooyen didn’t stop at flyhalf, making a total of five changes to his starting line-up for the Ospreys showdown.
Zander du Plessis comes in at outside centre for Henco van Wyk and Sanele Nohamba replaces Morne van den Berg at scrumhalf, while in the forwards, Emmanuel Tshituka takes over from Ruhan Straeuli at blindside flank and Ruben Schoeman is back in the No 4 jersey ahead of Ruan Venter.
Du Plessis made a couple of strong runs when he came on in the second half against the Bulls, and will look to make a big impression against Welsh internationals such as Owen Watkin and George North.
Nohamba brought a bit of spark to the Lions backline when he replaced Van den Berg last weekend, and would be hoping that the rain stays away from Swansea on Saturday, as the current forecast states.
Van Rooyen will be banking on Tshituka’s work-rate and physicality to add some bite to the loose trio, where the likes of Jaco Kriel and Willem Alberts have again missed out on selection.
Schoeman was one of the standout players last season, where his durability, physicality and work ethic kept the fire burning in a difficult season.
The 26-year-old second-rower, though, will have to play the game of his life alongside captain Reinhard Nothnagel to contain the Ospreys’ two stalwart locks, Adam Beard and Alun Wyn Jones in the lineouts and tight-loose.
With all the tinkering to the starting line-up, the Lions’ bench also looks formidable, with the likes of Venter, Van den Berg, Hendrikse and Sango Xamlashe all capable of making a significant impact in the second half.
15 Andries Coetzee 14 Edwill van der Merwe 13 Zander du Plessis 12 Marius Louw 11 Quan Horn 10 Gianni Lombard 9 Sanele Nohamba 8 Francke Horn 7 Emmanuel Tshituka 6 Sibusiso Sangweni 5 Reinhard Nothnagel (captain) 4 Ruben Schoeman 3 Ruan Dreyer 2 PJ Botha 1 Sti Sithole
Bench: 16 Jaco Visagie 17 JP Smith 18 Ruan Smith 19 Pieter Jansen van Vuren 20 Ruan Venter 21 Morne van den Berg 22 Jordan Hendrikse 23 Sango Xamlashe