- The Lions, who’ve pride themselves on being a solid scrumming unit, will be keen to put the difficulties of 2020 behind them in that set-piece.
- Ivan van Rooyen, head coach, hasn’t read too much in the battering his tight five took against the Stormers two weeks ago, rather using it as a gauge for where they are.
- Much hope is being invested in Carlu Sadie, who performed well in the Springbok Showdown last week.
For a team that over the past five years has pride itself on being one of the most formidable scrumming units in the country, 2020’s hiccups at that set-piece has been rather sobering for the Lions.
During a difficult Super Rugby campaign, the men from Ellis Park ended stone cold last in terms of their scrum success rate, only winning 81%.
And that hangover was felt two weeks ago at Super Fan Saturday, where they were mauled by the Stormers at Loftus, particularly in the first half.
Yet, instead of trying to read too much into what was essentially a pre-season game, Ivan van Rooyen and his coaching lieutenants have viewed that chastening experience as a learning curve.
“To be honest, to scrum against Frans Malherbe and Steven Kitshoff was always going to be tough,” he said.
“There’s a pretty decent argument to be made that, with them leading it, the Stormers’ scrum is the best in the world. So that game was actually a pretty good measure of where we’re at.”
It was also useful to note that Ruan Dreyer, one of the Lions’ high-profile acquisitions during lockdown, only recently recovered from a long-term Achilles injury, which rendered his responsibility as the anchor of the scrum as a pretty difficult one.
Almost a fortnight has passed now and Van Rooyen’s forwards have had an opportunity to take stock before Friday night’s Super Rugby Unlocked opener against the Sharks at Kings Park.
One potentially major factor is the confidence the promising Carlu Sadie would’ve taken from a good showing in last week’s Springbok Showdown.
It’s little wonder the 23-year-old will start.
“Carlu is a future star, particularly as a scrummager,” said Van Rooyen.
“I thought he and (Sharks loosehead) Ox Nche has a very good outing together at Newlands. It’s going to be a good challenge for both of them again, especially since they’ll probably play against each other.”
As an added insurance policy, the wily Wiehahn Herbst – known for being a prop in the old school mould – could come off the bench.
“He’s a good scrummager who has played a lot of rugby in the northern hemisphere too. Our mix of props has definitely been carefully considered.”
Kick-off on Friday is 19:00
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.
Subsitutes: Jan-Henning Campher, Dylan Smith, Wiehahn Herbst, Wilhelm van der Sluys, MJ Pelser, Hacjivah Dayimani, Morne van den Berg, Gianni Lombard, Wandisile Simelane, Ruan Dreyer.