Lions: Their big risk at Newlands



2019-02-22 10:58

Rob Houwing – Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – It
is one of those “could work a charm … might backfire noticeably” selection
moves.

On immediate
thought, you have to credit Lions head coach Swys de Bruin for enterprise
through his decision to pick two mobile but notably small flanks for the Super
Rugby round-two clash with the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday (17:15
kick-off).

Rather than
take the difficult decision over which of in-form incumbent Marnus Schoeman or
fit-again Kwagga Smith to deploy on the open side of the scrum, he has instead
shelved the principle – at least for this week — of fielding a more
conventional, brawny blind-sider and pinned his faith in both whippets as his
flankers for the derby.

Considering
that captain and seasoned No 8 Warren Whiteley is also more renowned for his
roaming and off-loading skills than his out-and-out “grunt” (though he is increasingly
no shirker in that department), the Lions will fascinatingly field one of the
least physical loose trios imaginable at this level.

By stark
contrast, their home-town opponents, hurting from a 40-3 thrashing by the Bulls
in Pretoria in their season-opener, again put out the Springbok current
first-choice flankers in Siya Kolisi, their own skipper, and SA Rugby Player of
the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit.

Both are
rather more renowned for their bone-crunching qualities at close quarters –
though Kolisi is not averse to a flair-laden offload or pacey charge or two in
open play – than as pilferers and effective “extra back-liners”.

The tale of
the tape between the two sets of flanks says a lot about the different styles
on offer: Kolisi is 1.88m and 105kg to Schoeman’s especially diminutive 1.78m
and 95kg, and the gap is considerably more acute between the powerhouse Du Toit
(2.00m, 120kg) and former SA Sevens marauder Smith (1.82m, 94kg).

So clearly
the Lions will be pinning a lot of faith in their front five to both outmuscle
and outwork their direct Stormers counterparts, thus creating a springboard for
fleet-footed Schoeman, fresh off his hat-trick of tries against the Jaguares in
Buenos Aires, and Smith to not only engineer turnovers ad nauseum but take part
in attacking raids against a home outfit who looked as questionable for
defensive organisation as they were fumbling and lateral for own ball-in-hand efforts
at Loftus.

The other
reason the joint-selection of Schoeman – well-known to many Stormers players
through his loan stint at Newlands during 2017 – and Smith is risky for the
Lions is that it naturally compromises their lineout toward the tail.

While
Whiteley is a quality lineout factor, he will be a bit of a one-man show — up
against a range of taller opposition timber nearby in the shape of Stormers
loosies Kolisi, Du Toit and Sikhumbuzo Notshe.

Still, coach
De Bruin may have figured that the Stormers’ lineout is fragile enough at
present – they botched at least four off their own throw early on during the
Pretoria calamity, especially of the deeper variety – not to be too major a
collective factor in home favour on Saturday.

In his
defence selection-wise, too, it is not easy for De Bruin to put out a suitably
“balanced” loose-forward combo at present, considering the injured status of No
7 wrecking-ball Cyle Brink.

The
mastermind’s main bench back-row option at Newlands will be Hacjivah Dayimani,
another who falls much more into the “athletic” category although he is considerably
taller than both starting flankers and could bolster the visitors’ lineout if
it becomes necessary.

Broadly, it
seems clear the Lions intend to outsmart, outrun and out-skill the Stormers on
an anticipated dry and warm day.

But at the
same time, Robbie Fleck’s under-scrutiny charges will have looked at the
starting shape of the Highvelders’ line-up and probably believe that they can
overcome them in an earthier, slightly more bullying fashion …

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter:
@RobHouwing

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