JOHANNESBURG – “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough!”
That’s how Lions boss Swys de Bruin reacted to questions about his decision to drop several senior campaigners and replace them with rookies for tomorrow’s Super Rugby clash with the Jaguares at Ellis Park.
De Bruin dropped Ruan Combrinck, Aphiwe Dyantyi (though he said the 2018 World Rugby Breakthrough Player of the Year had a niggle), Lionel Mapoe, Nic Groom and Hacjivah Dayimani from the matchday squad completely, while Stephan Lewies and Harold Vorster have to be happy with spots on the bench.
Into the team come rising stars, centre Wandisile Simelane (20), centre Franco Naude (22), flank Vincent Tshituka (20), lock Ruan Vermaak (20), and on the bench, prop Nathan McBeth (20). Tyrone Green, the exciting Wits player, who has been bracketed with Gianni Lombard (21), is also only 21.
The other newcomers to the starting team following the Lions’ 30-12 defeat by the Bulls last week are the experienced Sylvian Mahuza on the wing, and fit-again Ross Cronje, at scrumhalf, while on the bench, James Venter and Dillon Smit get an opportunity as well.
De Bruin said he was possibly taking a gamble by selecting so many youngsters, but quickly added that they had the potential to be world stars in the near future.
“It’s time to bring in some new guys,” he said. “I think we’ve got some of the best juniors coming through, maybe in the world. They were fantastic at SA U-20 level and I believe in them so much.
“Now is as good a time as any to test them. They’ll be up against an international team this weekend, but that’s what it is. You’ve got to show some guts sometimes. Maybe we’ll even have some X-factor about us, because if I don’t know what to expect (from these guys), how must the Jaguares feel?”
De Bruin confirmed most of the changes were made because of players not producing the goods in the first few weeks of Super Rugby action.
“I said to the guys at the start of the season, it doesn’t matter if you’re Jantjies, Whiteley, Mapoe, or Marx, the jersey belongs to a bigger union than yourself, and I include myself. You’ve got to be the best to earn that jersey every Saturday. And it will stay that way for as long as I am here; there is no place for passengers in our team, definitely not.”
The fleet-footed and speedy Simelane, formerly of Jeppe, is expected to bring some skill and pace to the outside channels, while Naude, who is on loan from the Bulls, is an energetic, powerful runner, believed to be much in the mould of Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
Tshituka, who played his schoolboy rugby at Northcliff, is an exciting and strong ball-carrier who, it is hoped by De Bruin, will get the Lions over the gain line, while Vermaak joins his former Monument school mate Rhyno Herbst in the second row.
McBeth, also from Monument, is a powerful prop who at one stage considered turning out for the Scotland U-20 team, while Green, also from Jeppe, is a strong and confident outside back.
Kick-off tomorrow is 3.05pm.
The Lions team is:
Andries Coetzee, Sylvian Mahuza, Wandisile Simelane, Franco Naude, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Kwagga Smith, Vincent Tshituka, Marnus Schoeman, Rhyno Herbst, Ruan Vermaak, Carlu Sadie, Malcolm Marx (capt), Dylan Smith.
Replacements: Pieter Jansen, Nathan McBeth, Frans van Wyk, Stephan Lewies, James Venter, Dillon Smit, Harold Vorster, Gianni Lombard/Tyrone Green