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Ivan van Rooyen makes changes as Lions hope to continue with unbeaten run against Sharks

Johannesburg – The Emirate Lions are on a four-match unbeaten run, and should be full of confidence with the momentum they have built but now they must do something they have not achieved in over a year – claim a South African franchise scalp.

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The Joburgers last victory over a SA team in the United Rugby Championship was on December 4 last year when they travelled to Cape Town and beat the Stormers handsomely 37-19. Since then, they have failed on every occasion, losing to the Cape-based side and the Shark twice, and the Bulls thrice.

In the next week or so, they will have two opportunities to put that bugbear to bed when they first face the Sharks and then the Stormers. To do so, they will have to show their psychological strengths as much as their physical ones.

“It is a little bit of a mental block,” Lions assistant coach Albert van den Berg admitted earlier this week.

“We are playing against our own players and when we play overseas players the guys are more open and just compete and go for it. The mental block is there for the South African sides but it is not something that is going to keep us from fighting.

“We want to be competitive; we want to stay in the race and make sure when the opportunities are there, we take them. With the Sharks coming up this weekend, it is a good opportunity to show what we are prepared for.

“We know what they are going to bring,” Van den Berg added. “They have a good kicking game, they have great backs, good forwards and we know their maul is very important for them.

“It is going to be a case for us to get over that mental block. We will have to start well, stay in the race as much as possible, and hopefully get the win.”

On Wednesday, head coach Ivan van Rooyen revealed the matchday 23 that must do so. Cash has made four changes to his starting XV and has reverted to 5-3 split on the bench as he continues to rotate his squad.

Moreover, only three players that started against the Dragons earlier this month will do so against the Durbanites on Friday.

Van Rooyen has also made a key positional change, introducing Ruan Venter into the eighthman spot, while rotating Jaco Kriel and Darrien Landsberg, who will wear the No 7 jumper. Emmanuel Tshituka will pack down in the No 6 jersey.

In front of them, Reinhard Nothnagel returns to the run-on team, and will take over the captaincy duties, which he has managed with aplomb so far this season.

Up-front, PJ Both is reinstated as the starting hooker – Jaco Visagie drops down to the bench – with JP Smith and Asenathi Ntlabakanye besides him. The latter has put in some monster shifts in recent weeks, the burly tighthead compiling over two hours of game time and making an impression while doing so.

The only other change is an injury enforced one in the backline. Outside-centre Henco van Wyk was not considered for selection due to an elbow niggle and it seems likely that he will miss next week’s clash against the Stormers as well.

He will, however, be ready for the Lions’ tour of Europe in January. In his absence, Marius Louw will partner former Sharks teammate Rynhardt Jonker for the first time as a starting pair for the Lions.

The URC encounter at Hollywoodbets Kings Park starts at 5pm.

Emirates Lions Starting XV: 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Edwill van der Merwe, 13 Rynhardt Jonker, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Quan Horn, 10 Jordan Hendrikse, 9 Sanele Nohamba; 8 Ruan Venter, 7 Darrien Landsberg, 6 Emmanuel Tshituka, 5 Reinhard Nothnagel (capt), 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 2 PJ Botha, 1 JP Smith

Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Pieter Jansen van Vuren, 20 Jaco Kriel, 21 Andre Warner, 22 Gianni Lombard, 23 Stean Pienaar

@FreemanZAR

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