The Lions, out to make amends for their poor Super Rugby showing earlier this year, are expected to bolster their squad with several big-name players for the showdown with the Springbok-laden Stormers when rugby resumes after a six-month coronavirus-break at Loftus Versfeld in the Super Fan festival on Saturday.
Topping the list are Lions returnees in Springboks, flank Jaco Kriel and prop Ruan Dreyer, who have returned to Joburg from England, as well as former Bulls captain Burger Odendaal and former Stormers centre EW Viljoen, who are both new to the Lions franchise and could make their debuts this weekend.
Viljoen, a versatile players who can also be considered at fullback, could be in direct competition for a place in the team with another new man on the Lions’ books, former Bulls player Divan Rossouw, who is most comfortable at fullback.
Kriel and Dreyer, who both followed former Lions coach Johan Ackermann to Gloucester, will be excited about turning out for the Lions again, while Odendaal will be just as keen to turn out at his former hunting ground. Whether he gets the starting nod in midfield though is another matter.
A real selection conundrum awaits Lions coach Cash van Rooyen, who also has Dan Kriel, Wandisile Simelane and Duncan Matthews in his midfield mix, while another new signing, in former Cheetahs wing Rabx Maxwane, could also complicate matters out wide.
Meanwhile, four of the five World Cup-winning heroes in the Stormers squad could be unleashed on the Lions.
The man who’ll be missing in the Stormers side is injured flank Pieter-Steph du Toit, but prop Steven Kitshoff, flank and Bok skipper Siya Kolisi, hooker Bongi Mbonambi and scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies could all face the Lions.
While Kolisi (knee) and Mbonambi (hamstring) picked up injuries in the Stormers’ opening Super Rugby game this year against the Hurricanes at Newlands, they are both now apparently available again after the long layoff.
And, Kitshoff, who had a chest injury, and Jantjies a fractured fibula (leg) – picked up during the last game before the lockdown kicked in – should also be in contention this week after recovering from those setbacks.
Stormers coach John Dobson told The Citizen only Du Toit (leg injury) wouldn’t be available for the match – which will serve as the four Super Rugby teams’ first proper outings since mid-March.
“Pieter-Steph is another three or four weeks away from returning, because the nerve in his muscle is taking longer to heal. It’s just not responding as quickly as we hoped it would,” he said.
“But the rest, like Bongi, Herschel, Siya and Steven are all on course. We hope to be at full-strength next week,” said Dobson.
In the other match on Saturday, the Bulls will go up against the Sharks.