Elton Jantjies. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/Ashley Vlotman
Elton Jantjies. Picture: GALLO IMAGES/Ashley Vlotman

Life in the absence of talisman Elton Jantjies starts in earnest for the Lions this week but coach Ivan van Rooyen has little doubt about the virtues of new flyhalf Fred Zeilinga.

While Jantjies represents Pau in France‚ Zeilinga will start in the No 10 jersey when the Lions start their Rainbow Cup campaign against the Bulls at Loftus on Saturday.

Jantjies‚ a mainstay in the Lions line-up for the past decade‚ had become the team’s pulse‚ often dictating the rhythm and tempo in attack. Though those are commodities not easily replaced, Van Rooyen is confident Zeilinga possesses skills to stand up to the challenge.

“Obviously there will be ‘Lions’ instinct’ that we might lose out on‚” said Van Rooyen about what the team will be lacking in Jantjies’ absence. “Fred has great attacking ability‚ great kicking ability. He understands how we want to play. We are comfortable he can have a great game this weekend and lead us in our systems.

“His mindset is good. He keeps things simple and effective. He’s a no fuss kind of guy. What you see is what you get.”

That of course doesn’t mean he is predictable. They can afford him to be as they confront the Bulls trying to snap a four-match losing streak against their neighbours.

Much of the Bulls’ maraud under coach Jake White has come as a result of the toil of their forwards and in that regard the Lions are desperate to avoid being manhandled.

To that end they have opted for a six/two split on their bench. “Their strength is upfront‚” noted Van Rooyen about the Bulls. “They pride themselves in their set piece. It will be a 7pm kickoff. We feel we can stay with them and hopefully in the last 20 minutes with six [fresh] forwards we can pick up the tempo of the game.”

One of those replacements is Emmanuel Tshituka‚ the brother of Vincent who has represented the Lions with distinction the past few seasons.

The coach is hoping the pair can spur each other on and their energy will have a ripple effect. “The Tshitukas are blessed with great athletic genes‚” said Van Rooyen. “They are big men who are still young in their physical development. They are only going to get bigger and stronger and will get faster and fitter. Emmanuel is tough like Vince‚ exciting with ball in hand. I think they will get good energy off each other.”

The captaincy goes to Dan Kriel who has made false starts on the two previous occasions he was due to take the armband. “Third time lucky for Dan. Last year the game got called off and last week didn’t happen‚” said Van Rooyen.

The strapping centre will adopt a collaborative approach to the job. “We have an extremely good leadership group in the team and obviously they will be helping me‚ making the right decisions‚” said Kriel.

Having suffered defections and retirements in recent years, the Lions go into the campaign with fewer Springboks than the other three franchises in the competition. Their goals are measured‚ for now.

“We want to lay foundations for what is coming in the Currie Cup and the rest of next year‚” said Van Rooyen. “There is great excitement in the group to start afresh. With the upcoming tour of the British and Irish Lions I think the level will be high and the guys will be going at each other hammer and tongs.”

Lions squad: Tiaan Swanepoel; Stean Pienaar‚ Wandisile Simelane‚ Dan Kriel (captain)‚ Courtnall Skosan; Fred Zeilinga‚ André Warner; Francke Horn‚ Vincent Tshituka‚ MJ Pelser; Wilhelm van der Sluys‚ Ruben Schoeman; Jannie du Plessis‚ PJ Botha‚ Sti Sithole. Replacements: Morné Brandon‚ Nathan McBeth‚ Carlu Sadie‚ Reinhard Nothnagel‚ Emmanuel Tshituka‚ Sibusiso Sangweni‚ Morné van den Berg‚ EW Viljoen

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