Lions Coach Johan Ackermann. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/SYDNEY SESHIBEDI
Lions Coach Johan Ackermann. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/SYDNEY SESHIBEDI

Any notion the Lions would ease back into Super Rugby by resting their large Springbok contingent against the lowly Sunwolves this weekend was banished by coach Johan Ackermann on Thursday.

Ackermann assembled his best available team for the occasion as they hope to stay in touch with the pacesetting Crusaders as the league stages of Super Rugby near climax.

Captain Warren Whiteley is of course unavailable through injury, as is inside centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg‚ while scrumhalf Ross Cronjé is fit again after he missed the third Test against France.

In Whiteley’s absence the team will be captained by Jaco Kriel‚ a task the flank rather warmed to in 2016.

Whiteley’s spot goes to Ruan Ackermann‚ while Kriel and Kwagga Smith will pack down on the side of the scrum.

"There is only one Warren Whiteley‚" Ackermann said. "Obviously, what he brings to the side is special… his leadership and the work that he gets through as a No8.

"We played play-offs without him last year as well. Jaco has had that experience as a leader. We must go as far as possible to give Warren a fair chance of taking part again‚" said the coach.

Ackermann’s decision to go guns blazing this week was partially influenced by the fact that the Lions have their second bye next week. "If we didn’t have a bye next week I would probably have changed my mind but the reality is in the context of the season this is an important match. If we can bank this one the guys can have a proper break next weekend."

The coach is hoping his side can quickly pick up where they left off before the competition yielded to the Test window.

SA Under-20 star Damian Willemse will make his first start for the Stormers against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday, while Springbok captain Eben Etzebeth and franchise skipper Siya Kolisi have been rested.

Willemse‚ who made an elegant step up in performance at the recent Under-20 World Championships in Tbilisi‚ will have a chance to audition for the starting flyhalf berth for the remainder of the campaign.

First choice flyhalves Jean-Luc du Plessis and Rob du Preez have both sustained season-ending injuries‚ opening the door for Willemse to stake his claim in the team.

The Stormers have already qualified for the Super Rugby play-offs and will use the next three matches to develop their game plan for the post-season.

"Damian is a youngster in our system and has done well over the last few months‚" coach Robbie Fleck said. "It’s hard to believe he was playing schoolboy rugby last season.

"He was impressive in our pre-season and we have been grooming him for an opportunity this year."

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