Johannesburg – Change is – not in the way the Lions play, but certainly in the make-up of their match-day 23 for this weekend’s clash against the Dragons.
If you are having a sense of deja vu, then you need not be too concerned. It will be the Lions’ second match of three against the Welsh franchise in as many weeks, but here too, there will be a slight difference.
The 33-25 victory a fortnight ago was in the United Rugby Championship, while Saturday’s encounter at Ellis Park (12.45pm kick-off) will be the Lions’ first tentative foray into the Challenge Cup.
It will be a momentous occasion for SA Rugby as they enter a very lucrative and competitive tournament.
The Lions will not participate in the prestigious Champions Cup due to finishing outside of the top eight during the 2021-22 URC season, but the Challenge Cup will remain an important stepping stone in the development of their young team.
Nonetheless, there is a lot of rugby on the horizon in both the URC and Challenge Cup, and coach Ivan van Rooyen made it clear that the team that plays this weekend will reflect that truth.
“We will probably use this week and the next to subtly rotate a bit,” Van Rooyen stated yesterday, without revealing what his plans are.
“It will probably be more key positions. The man next to me,” he said, referring to captain Reinhard Nothnagel, “probably thinks he can play 22 games for a full 80 minutes, but he can’t. So, we have to look somewhere to rotate.
“That is the tricky part.
“If we are honest about the bigger picture, the core group will be involved in both URC and Challenge Cup.
“It’s always nice to play the first game (of a new competition), but hopefully, we can get to the playoffs, and then everyone will be available there as well.
“We have to balance between doing that and playing in a historic game.”
One can imagine then that the front row will look all new, while the second row could see Nothnagel on the bench, with Ruan Venter, Pieter Janse van Vuren and Ruben Schoeman in the mix.
Willem Alberts is also nearly ready for a return. Sibusiso Sangweni could get a start in the loose trio, as could Ruhan Straeuli, while Jaco Kriel gets another shot.
Sanele Nohamba and Jordan Hendrikse have been the preferred halfback pairing lately, but if Van Rooyen sticks to changing up key positions, then Andre Warner and Gianni Lombard – who have both played off the bench recently – could also get a start.
Andries Coetzee, meanwhile, has been absent at fullback these past two weeks, but could slot in there, replacing a resting Quan Horn.
While the team might undergo some changes, the game plan won’t.