On the eve of the Lions Super Rugby squad’s departure for a daunting trip Down Under, flanker Marnus Schoeman believes he is not in competition with the returning former captain and Springbok flank Jaco Kriel.
Kriel was re-singed last month from English club Gloucester to much fanfare, yet due to an ankle operation late last year, he won’t be available until the Lions return from their four-match tour.
“Jaco is a quality guy and player and I look forward to playing with him when he returns. It’s not a competition,” said the nippy Schoeman, who lacks some of Kriel’s size but makes up with heart and keen poaching skills at the breakdown.
“His return will lift everyone around him so I’m looking forward to the challenge of playing, whether it’s in the starting line-up or from the bench.”
30-year-old Schoeman, who’s been a bit of a journeyman in playing for the Bulls, Griquas, Pumas and Stormers before settling at Ellis Park, isn’t oblivious to the fact that Kriel’s return could suddenly transform the Lions’ loose trio into a formidable and experienced one.
“Once Jaco is back there’s certainly this appealing thought of forming a combination with him and Willem Alberts. At the same time though, Vincent Tshituka and Len Massyn have added a lot of leadership and competition to our team,” he said.
Schoeman is expected to already have a taste of fronting up with the grizzled Alberts, who’s been included in the touring squad and will undoubtedly play a key role.
His understated leadership has already added value.
“Willem is not a guy who will take over team meetings, but he’s nonetheless keen to provide input and assist where he can. It’s a two-way thing because it’s almost a new start from him too, learning the systems which are different from when he last played for the Lions (way back in 2009).”
The Lions commence their trip with a fixture in Sydney against the Waratahs, which will given them hope given that they clinched a fine 29-0 victory on their previous visit in 2018.
But Schoeman isn’t prepared to be complacent.
“We always have good memories of Sydney, but history counts for nothing. This is a different year with different players and a different competition.
“So we can’t really take anything from the past but just focus on the current tour and coming up against them.”