Lions favour tried and tested

Lions coach Eugene Eloff has resisted the temptation to favour experience over youth, and believes that his established combinations should do the job for him this Saturday.

The starting side sees seven changes to the one that sneaked past Griquas last week. Five new players come into the forward pack, with Bertus Smit, Ethienne Reynecke and Heinke van der Merwe returning to the front row. Lock Anton van Zyl has recovered from the mouth injury that saw him sidelined last week, while Pietie Ferreira moves into the back row for Ernst Joubert, who is out with a damaged cheekbone.

The halfback pairing of Nic Eyre and Jaco van Schalkwyk are replaced by Springbok flyhalf Andre Pretorius and SA U21 scrumhalf Jano Vermaak.

“It’s going to be an immensely tough encounter that we need to win, so we have decided to keep it consistent,” Eloff told keo.co.za.

Although Van Schalkwyk has been a revelation at flyhalf, he was always going to make way for Pretorius after the Tri-Nations. What is surprising is that he cannot find a spot in the starting line-up, but Eloff confirmed that this is not the time to be experimenting with untried combinations.

“I did not want to play him at centre for this game. Doppies [la Grange] and Jaco Pretorius have been played well together, and it would be foolish to tamper with that partnership for such a crucial game.

“If anything I would have brought him [Van Schalkwyk] onto the wing or at fullback, but not at centre.”

Both the Lions team and Vodacom Western Province have had their lapses this season, and the outcome of this game will be won by the side that holds their nerve. Both teams are very young, and a victory here will stand either side in good stead to progress further in the big games of the playoffs.

“We’re on a role having won six in a row, but we still need to win this one. I think that it’s going to be about keeping possession and limiting the opposition’s opportunities,” Eloff said.

The Lions have included the vastly experienced utility back Grant Esterhuizen on the bench, as well as Springbok prop Lawrence Sephaka. As senior players, they will be invaluable in the second half, a period where the Lions have struggled to close out opponents.

Lions vs WP: 15 Earl Rose; 14 Wylie Human, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Doppies la Grange, 11 Louis Ludik; 10 André Pretorius, 9 Jano Vermaak; 8 Pietie Ferreira, 7 Cobus Grobbelaar, 6 Wikus van Heerden (c), 5 Anton van Zyl, 4 Cobus Grobler, 3 Bertus Smit, 2 Ethienne Reynecke, 1 Heinke van der Merwe. Reserves: 16 Riaan Kruger, 17 Lawrence Sephaka, 18 Gordon Gilfillan, 19 Franco van der Merwe, 20 Nicholas Eyre, 21 Jaco van Schalkwyk, 22 Grant Esterhuizen.

By Jon Cardinelli