The Lions suffered a big blow on Thursday morning when inspirational captain and No 8 Warren Whiteley was ruled out of the Super Rugby clash with the Highlanders at Ellis Park on Saturday.
Whiteley injured his calf in the 42-25 win in the quarter-finals last weekend against the Crusaders, and failed his fitness test on Thursday morning.
He will be replaced as captain by flank Jaco Kriel who is an experienced leader at this level, while Ruan Ackermann comes in at No 8 for Whiteley.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann also made three changes to the bench after scrumhalf Ross Cronje and flank Cyle Brink were also ruled out by injury.
Lock Lourens Erasmus comes in for Ackermann, flank Steph de Wit takes Brink’s place, while Dillon Smit was named in the absence of Cronje.
“It’s always an honour to lead the Lions, especially in such a big game,” said Kriel at the team announcement on Thursday.
“We will definitely miss Warren as he is a great player, but at the same time I’m happy to lead the side,” he said.
Ackermann said Whiteley injured the calf in the movement where the Lions scored their last try last weekend by Cronje, but added Whiteley remains with the side to help with the final and mental preparations.
“Warren was also present on Thursday when we went through a video session and he made some very good comments,” said Ackermann.
“Ruan however has played a few times for the team this season and he also played against Kiwi teams when we toured Down Under, while he performed well when he replaced Warren last weekend,” said Ackermann.
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel (capt), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Dylan Smith
Bench: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Jacques van Rooyen, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Steph de Witt, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Jaco van der Walt
15 Ben Smith (capt), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Matt Faddes, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Bench: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Liam Squire, 21 Dan Pryor, 22 Te Aihe Toma, 23 Marty Banks