- Burger Odendaal’s start to his Lions career is already a challenging one: facing off against Springbok star Lukhanyo Am.
- The midfielder has a good reputation in local rugby but likely needs this fresh start to show whether he has the legs to play international rugby.
- Am readily expresses that he has massive respect for the former Bulls skipper.
Burger Odendaal commences his stint with the Lions in arguably the most challenging of fashions: being the direct opponent of Lukhanyo Am, one of world’s best outside centres.
Not that the 27-year-old midfielder will shy away from trying to make his mark against the Sharks in their Super Rugby Unlocked opener at King’s Park on Friday evening.
He was one of the more controversial names involved in Jake White’s clean-out at the Bulls, having just signed a two-year extension with the franchise at the start of the year, only to eventually be told that he was not part of the new director of rugby’s plans.
While Odendaal might have a point to prove to his former “family”, there’s a more important factor at play.
The former Monument pupil needs this fresh start to finally convince of his true worth.
15 Manie Libbok, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 Lukhanyo Am (captain), 12 Marius Louw, 11 Werner Kok, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Phepsi Buthelezi, 6 James Venter, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Dylan Richardson, 1 Ox Nche
Substitutes: 16 Dan Jooste, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 John-Hubert Meyer, 19 JJ van der Mescht, 20 Mpilo Gumede, 21 Grant Williams, 22 Jeremy Ward, 23 Thaakir Abrahams
15 EW Viljoen, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Burger Odendaal, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 Elton Jantjies (captain), 9 Dillon Smit, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vince Tshituka, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Sti Sithole
Substitutes: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 MJ Pelser, 21 Hacjivah Dayimani, 22 Morne van den Berg, 23 Gianni Lombard, 24 Wandisile Simelane, 25 Ruan Dreyer
Odendaal has consistently been considered as one of the most dependable and accomplished centres in the country but it was only during a short, productive stint under John Mitchell in 2017-18 that he truly seemed in the Springbok frame.
It’s telling also that Ivan van Rooyen, the Lions head coach, has picked his high-profile recruit in the No 13 jersey, the position where Mitchell felt Odendaal was the most effective (if Springbok Jesse Kriel wasn’t available, admittedly).
Van Rooyen hopes the relative familiarity of being paired with another former Bull in Dan Kriel will prove beneficial.
“We’re really excited. We had them together for about 20 or 30 minutes against the Pumas last week. They are going to bring something different for us,” he said.
“We’re trying them out this week together. They do know each other quite well from the Bulls days and they did play junior rugby together. We have a clear plan of what we want to do and we feel they can complement each other.”
Sharks skipper Am also has a lot of respect for his counterpart.
“As centres, we’ve never really played head-to-head because he’s predominantly been a 12. But I have huge respect for him and played against him quite a few time, I’m looking forward to another battle,” said the Bok talisman.
“Burger is experienced and bring leadership to the Lions mix as well. From how he played at the Bulls, he’s a guy that takes on defenders and carries pretty hard.
“I’m expecting that again. It’s quite a big centre pairing that the Lions have. It’s going to be a physical battle in midfield.”
Kick-off at Kings Park is at 19:00.