Last chance for Lions to push for Boks
ONE could argue that the weekend’s bye would not have been in the best interests, or at the most opportune time, for the Lions, especially after their important and narrow victory over the Bulls the week prior.
Winning matches can be as much about building momentum as any positive training regimen during the week, so having it interrupted can be a mental frustration for both coaches and players.
The Lions will have to put that all behind them this week as they prepare for their final home game of the season at Emirates Airline Park against the Sharks, who themselves have had an opportunity to reassess their systems and structures after two defeats in as many matches.
There is a maximum of 10 points available to both teams if they secure bonus point wins in their two remaining matches, so the possibility of finishing top of the standings and playing against the top European club in the Rainbow Cup North v South final, is still a reality.
The Sharks are arguably a step closer to realising that goal, while it will take a stack of permutations for the Lions to achieve the feat.
Nevertheless, there is still much to play for – there is a British & Irish Lions tour now only a month away.
Both teams will welcome back players from the Springbok alignment camp of last week, and the next match in the tournament will be the final opportunity to impress the Bok think-tank.
The 45-man national squad to enter camp in Bloemfontein to prepare for the tourists will also be announced on Saturday, probably after this match, so this weekend is arguably the last chance for all the players to make a final impression.
Wandisile Simelane, as revealed by coach Ivan van Rooyen, was one of those players at the camp and he will have to put in a massive shift against the Sharks to justify the interest he is receiving from the national set-up.
Elton Jantjies, meanwhile, continues to go about his business for Pau in the Top 14 and will possibly participate in his final match for the French club in the last round of that championship on Saturday, against Montpellier.
At the moment, it seems that these are the only two players from the Lions who have attracted the curiosity of the Bok selectors.
Nevertheless, a handful of players can maybe make one final case for their inclusion.
Prop Sti Sithole and Carlu Sadie, if fit, must hope there is a thimbleful of doubt in the minds of Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber if they are to sneak into the squad, and at least get a selected for the South Africa ‘A’ side that will play against the visitors on July 14.
The same can be said of Lions captain Burger Odendaal, who arguably had his best match for the Joburg team against the Bulls.
Certainly, an argument can also be made for Vincent Tshituka, if the DRC-born player is eligible to represent South Africa, as the 23-year-old was already sighted last year as a future Bok.
Saturday’s match will also probably be the last game for Jordan Hendrikse for the Lions in this tournament. The 19-year-old flyhalf has made quite an impression since taking over the reins at pivot a month ago, but on Sunday will join the Baby Boks for their Under20 International Series against Argentina, Georgia and Uruguay.
Hendrikse will be joined by Lions teammates Tyler Bocks, Izan Esterhuizen, Siyemukela Ndlovu, Sibusiso Shongwe, Zeilinga Strydom and Henco van Wyk. That series starts on June 18.