DESPITE their non-involvement in any sort of on-field action up until now, Lions coach Johan Ackermann looks set to employ all of his available loan players for Friday night’s crucial promotion-relegation first leg battle against the Kings in Port Elizabeth.
Balancing the loyalists’ reward for good form and the automatic superior claims for inclusion of first-choice loanees in Elton Jantjies, Franco van der Merwe and Martin Bezuidenhout, was always going to be a thorny issue for the former Springbok lock but he seems to have taken a pragmatic view on the matter.
“It’s all about observing how they slot back into our pattern,” said Ackermann.
“There are no conditioning issues with our loan players because they’ve had game time during Super Rugby so it’s really just about re-acquainting them with our game plans. I’ve had a week to judge them and there’s nothing to suggest that they’ll halt our momentum. I definitely want to involve them.”
Naturally, the fact that the trio have played for significant stages under Ackermann in the past makes re-incorporation that much easier.
However, the news that most of the group, including those who decided to grit it out in the backwaters, is still in contention for selection will be offset by a few important absences.
Experienced former Bok prop CJ van der Linde won’t feature – and never really was realistically considered – as well as influential midfielder Alwyn Hollenbach.
Ackermann added that halfback Michael Bondesio “is less than 100%”, meaning he’ll be bracketed as doubtful pending a fitness test later this week.
The magnitude of this week’s importance to the side’s future will no doubt impact on psyches, prompting their mentor to keep things as simple as possible.
“We’ve tried to keep things normal. Our training sessions have been routinised and we’ve kept to that,” said Ackermann. “We’ve made an effort to enjoy each other’s company. If we don’t laugh a bit early in the week, imagine how we’ll be by Friday?”