Lions hope to avoid injury pitfalls
PRE-SEASON SPOTLIGHT: Lions coach Johan Ackermann is using his team's trip to Newlands on Saturday as a last chance to experiment.
However, his biggest worry, when they tackle the Stormers, is the possibility that his team will suffer injuries ahead of the Super Rugby season.
He admitted the team named to run out at Newlands is the core of what he feels will be their Super Rugby squad.
"It is great to have everybody together again," he said of the return of a host of his Japan-based players.
"However, the biggest challenge of these pre-season games is to come through injury free."
He added they also need to give game time to players who have not played with the team this year - after a virtual Under-21 team featured in the first preseason outing against the Bulls in Harare and mostly fringe player were used in last week's clash with an invitation XV.
"Our Japan players only returned last week," Ackermann told rugby365, adding: "It is important that the players play together again and the combinations gel again - game time is the key.
"You can only train so much, then you have to see how the player reacts under pressure and then you have a base to work from.
"The Stormers have shown some good form [in pre-season] and they will be a good test."
He said the conditioning of his overseas-based players is "mostly fine", but they were all afforded an additional a week off.
There are a couple of minor injury issues.
Lions captain Warren Whiteley had his wisdom teeth removed this week and could not recover on time.
Springbok centre Lionel Mapoe will miss the encounter due to a hamstring strain.
"Lionel, in training last week, felt his hamstring tighten up," Ackermann told rugby365, adding: "We are not going to risk him this weekend.
"However, for the rest - like Franco [Mostert], Warren [Whiteley], Jaco [Kriel] and Elton [Jantjies] all look fit. It doesn't look like they are carrying any niggles from their stint in Japan."
There are two positions that differ significantly from last year's regulars - at lock and on the flanks.
"Franco [Mostert] was used in both roles [No.4 and No.5] at the Springboks last year," the coach said.
"We want to see how the combination [of Marvin Orie and Franco Mostert] work. They are both good at calling line-outs, which is good for us.
"Andries [Ferreira] can come on and we can move Franco back to No.5. We also want Marvin to get a feeling of our structures. For a new player, it is important to get that first game behind you - that will feel him part of the group."
Loose forward is the one position where Ackermann faces a big poser.
The retirement of Warwick Tecklenburg means the highly successful trio of that include Boks Jaco Kriel (on the bench for this game) and Warren Whiteley (not playing this week) has been broken up.
"The result is not that important for us, Ackermann said, adding: "We want to test some players.
"You can't expect Jaco, after he played a full 80-minute game a just last week, to come in and play an 80-minute [pre-season] game.
"We have to give the young players a chance to play under pressure.
"Also, these guys have worked hard in the off-season and they must be rewarded. They must show what they can do and then we have the luxury of, when Jaco comes on, he can help with the on-field leadership.
"If you look at our bench, the guys who will come on in the second half are very young and it will be good for Jaco to give some leadership there."
Ackermann said they won't attribute specific roles to the flanks.
"Every play must play towards his strengths. Cyle [Brink] is just as good a ball carrier as any other player. Jaco [Kriel] was always criticised about his size, yet he is one of our best ball carriers.
"Between the three of them they just have to play within our game plan, both on attack and defence - each one has his own strengths."
Stormers squad: Juarno Augustus, Nizaam Carr, Jaco Coetzee, Juan de Jongh, Dan du Plessis, Jean-Luc du Plessis, Robert du Preez, Dewaldt Duvenage, Rynhardt Elstadt, JC Janse van Rensburg, Cheslin Kolbe, Siyamthanda Kolisi, Dan Kriel, Dillyn Leyds, Wilco Louw, Frans Malherbe, Sarel Marais, Bongi Mbonambi, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Caylib Oosthuizen, Ramone Samuels, JD Schickerling, Chris van Zyl, Jano Vermaak, EW Viljoen, Cobus Wiese, Damian Willemse, Eduard Zandberg, Leolin Zas.
Lions: 15 Jaco van der Walt, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Howard Mnisi, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies (captain), 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Fabian Booysen, 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Cyle Brink, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements - from: Armand van der Merwe, Corne Fourie, Hencus van Wyk, Andries Ferreira, Lourens Erasmus, Robert Kruger, Jaco Kriel, Victor Sekekete, Dillon Smit, Andries Coetzee, Harold Vorster, Anthony Volmink, Jacques Nel, Sylvian Mahuza.
Date: Saturday, February 11
Venue: Newlands, Cape Town
Kick-off: 15.00 (13.00 GMT)
Referee: Jaco van Heerden
By Jan de Koning