Butch to lead much-changed Lions
Golden Lions coach Johan Ackermann has made eight changes to his starting XV, as a precautionary measure, for their Currie Cup match against the Blue Bulls at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The Johannesburg-based side are already guaranteed a spot in next week’s playoffs and Ackermann has opted to rest his key players for this weekend’s Jukskei derby.
The hosts, already assured of a home semi-final, are likely to remain in second place on the log unless Griquas beat table toppers the Sharks in Durban on Friday. If Griquas win, and the defending champions beat their Pretoria neighbours, they will finish top and secure themselves a potential home final.
“I had to make a decision, hoping Griquas do us a favour, and on that hope, risk some key players,” Ackermann said after he named his team on Thursday.
“Or I must go with my gut feeling and say, if they are not going to win, I have the opportunity to rest some key players that have played a lot of rugby.” Ackermann said he made his decisions based on the assumption that the coastal side would cement their place at the top of the standings with a victory over the Peacock Blues.
“I’m just going to back that and go with the scenario where I believe the Sharks will win and we will have no doubts on Monday when we start choosing the side,” he said.
“I want the core group of guys fit and I still believe there are players that really need that rest.” The Lions mentor has picked only two of his returning Springbok players, with Pat Cilliers replacing Jacobie Adriaanse at tighthead prop and CJ van der Linde replacing JC Janse van Rensburg at loosehead.
The side’s star flyhalf, Elton Jantjies, could be given an opportunity to face his Bulls counterpart Morne Steyn off the bench.
Lions stalwart Franco van der Merwe will move to the bench with Paul Willemse taking his place at lock in the run-on side.
In the backline, Anthony Volmink will receive a starting berth in the place of Ruan Combrinck who shifts to fullback in place of Andries Coetzee.
Ackermann has made wholesale changes to his loose trio with Cobus Grobbelaar, Jaco Kriel and Warren Whiteley replaced by Jaco Kriel, Derick Minnie and WIllie Britz respectively.
With regular captain Janse van Rensburg rested for the clash, flyhalf Butch James will for the first time in his illustrious career captain a side at professional rugby level.
While the Lions have taken the luxury of resting some of their players, the Bulls have been given a boost with the return of their Springboks.
The Pretoria side will be crossing the Jukskei river determined to secure a playoff spot with a victory and in the process avoid the relegation zone.
Ackermann insisted the Lions had not made the task significantly easier for the Bulls.
“Regardless of what side we selected it would be a tough game because they (the Bulls) will be a full-strength side,” Ackermann said.
“We are going out to win the game and there is no doubt in my mind that the players will feel the same.
“If the Bulls are good enough to beat us with the team they bring, then they deserve a place in the semis.” Ackermann, however, sent a stern warning to the Bulls not to underestimate his side.
“It is definitely not a given that they are going to win and hopefully the Bulls don’t think that way, otherwise they are going to have a surprise.”
Golden Lions: 15 Ruan Combrinck, 14 Deon Helberg, 13 Deon van Rensburg, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Butch James (c), 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 CJ van der Linde
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse, 18 Paul Willemse, 19 Warren Whiteley, 20 Whestley Moolman, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Lionel Mapoe.