Heinke van der Merwe’s comeback from a serious knee injury will only take place during next year’s Super 14.
The Lions and Springbok loosehead injured his patella tendon against the Reds in Brisbane on 18 April with the initial prognosis ruling him out for between four and six months. The most positive result would have seen him back on the playing field by mid-August, but coach Hans Coetzee said he would not be used during the Currie Cup.
‘Heinke could be ready within a month or even earlier, but we won’t rush him back unnecessarily,’ Coetzee told keo.co.za. ‘In the interest of the player, we’d rather let him recover fully, and do his rehabilitation properly, so we won’t use him this year.
‘There have been no complications in the process and his dad [Oupa] told me he is 70% at full recovery at the moment.’
The Lions have used able replacements in JC Janse van Rensburg and Wayne Swart in the No 1 jersey, with the latter starting against the Leopards on Friday.
Turning his attention to the match, Coetzee said the six alterations to the side were due to rotation, as well as wanting to field a side capable of scoring tries. The move of Franco van der Merwe to lock from flank is one such example.
‘We have selected guys known for their mobility, and some that are more athletic than other players. This will vary from game to game. What might work for us against the Leopards might need changes against Griquas,’ said Coetzee.
The Ellis Park fixture also sees the return of Earl Rose, who didn’t play any part in the matches against the Bulls and Cheetahs.
‘I want to make it clear that Earl Lewis is injured, and we had to replace him,’ said Coetzee. ‘After consideration, we decided to fall back on the experience of Earl Rose, as he has been in the system. There are certain weaknesses he has, but we’ve told him what we want.
‘Hopefully the two weeks’ rest will give him a clear head and he’ll be a new guy.’
Lying sixth on the log, the Lions have scored the second fewest tries  in the Currie Cup, with only Boland faring worse. They do face a Leopards side who have conceded 46 scores in nine matches, a fact the Lions will be trying to exploit.
‘The style we tried from the beginning may have been a bit too conservative, as we focused on a direct approach. We thought we didn’t have the speed and ability to play a wider game, but there has been a change in thinking and we will try to become a more expansive side.’
By Grant Ball