Stormers coach John Dobson says the plan was always to give prop Leon Lyons a starting opportunity against the Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The Stormers confirmed in their team announcement for the match that Springbok pair Steve Kitshoff and Scarra Ntubeni have been isolated according to Covid-19 protocols after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.
Kitshoff and Ntubeni both tested negative for Covid-19 on Tuesday, but have regardless been put into isolation according to SA Rugby’s protocols.
The duo have therefore missed the Stormers’ trip to Nelspruit where they will face a Pumas side – coming off an excellent win over Griquas – on Friday evening.
Kitshoff’s absence from the starting lineup means that loosehead prop Leon Lyons will earn his first Stormers cap.
Lyons was named as a replacement last week but never got on the pitch against the Emirates Lions, with the experienced Kitshoff playing the entire match at Newlands.
‘My hand on my heart, Leon Lyons is going to start in this game anyway,’ Dobson told the media during the pre-match media conference on Wednesday evening. ‘He is a player we are really excited about. He has come through our junior ranks, is really strong, a bit loosehead. He is a little bit in a Kitshoff mould.
‘Obviously to lose two Springboks in Kitsie and Scarra is significant. Luckily, Chad Solomon has about 12 Super Rugby caps and Leon is certainly our prop for the future. So, out of adversity comes an opportunity for these guys.
‘As I say, Leon is a little Kitsie. If you were doodling at home on a notepad and wanted to design a loosehead, you would probably sketch someone who looks like Leon Lyons. Big thighs, a big, deep chest. He looks like a classic loosehead.
‘He did really well for us at U21 level, but wasn’t available before lockdown because of injury. He is a good ball-carrier, but a really good scrummager. I don’t expect him to have it all his own way this week. It is his first game. He hasn’t played anything beyond U21 rugby. Leon is one of those guys who is going to come through as one of the outstanding looseheads in South Africa. We have been really keen to give him an opportunity for a while.’
Lyons is not the only player getting a start as wing Edwill van der Merwe will get a rare opportunity to show his skill following injuries to both Sergeal Petersen and Seabelo Senatla. Lyons’ promotion has also allowed another young prop in Kwenzo Blose to be called up to the bench.
‘We need to be disciplined as coaches to create these opportunities, because otherwise we wouldn’t,’ Dobson said. ‘Leon was going to start this weekend. Not because we are taking the Pumas lightly, but because what happens if Steven Kitshoff goes down in the fifth minute of a game and Leon hasn’t played at this level? We didn’t put him on last week and that is our responsibility.
‘We need to find out more about him. We are completely aware that he isn’t going to be Steven Kitshoff. Neither is James Slipper or anybody else in the world at the moment. But he will be much better for the experience. He is one to watch. It might not be his peak on Friday, but the start of a great journey.’
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