Lions leave stars at home

Coach Johan Ackermann has opted to rest his first-choice players for the Lions' trip to face the Jaguares in Buenos Aires this Saturday.

None of the Lions' Springboks, such as Elton Jantjies, Faf de Klerk, Ruan Combrinck, Jaco Kriel and Julian Redelinghuys, will make the trip, while as many as 15 regular match-23 players have been left at home. Ross Cronjé is set to skipper a squad that shows wholesale changes from last weekend's clash with the Kings.

The Lions currently occupy top spot in the overall Super Rugby standings, which would earn them the right to host a final should they progress all the way to the title decider. However, they are only a single point ahead of the Chiefs, and two points ahead of the Crusaders.

Nevertheless, Ackermann has still opted to take a second-string side to Argentina, prioritising player management over the incentive of finishing top of the Super Rugby pile, which brings its due reward in the form of home-ground advantage throughout the playoffs.

The Lions can finish no lower than second on the overall log, though, as the conference winners are guaranteed places one to four, and the Johannesburg-based side could only be surpassed by one Kiwi team.

Although they're assured of a home semi-final, Ackermann has still opted to make a big call by not taking his best side to Buenos Aires.

It's believed he has noted the advice out of the Bulls and Sharks camps, with these two teams having suffered the ill-effects of a taxing journey to Buenos Aires and back.

'This is a great opportunity for our whole group to experience and express themselves at Super Rugby level and to make sure everybody is prepared at the highest level,' Ackermann commented.

'The 15 players that stay behind will have time to work hard physically for the next round of important Super Rugby matches that lie ahead. It also gives us the chance to do some medical rehabilitation with some of them. With the long travelling hours to Argentina one loses a lot of time that could have been spent working with these players.

'That being said, we have a lot of faith in the players who we send to Argentina. They have been part of our extended squad for the whole year and must be ready to play in a playoff game should we need them, and we regard this as vital preparation.'

Lions – 15 Sylvian Mahuza, 14 Koch Marx, 13 Stokkies Hanekom, 12 Howard Mnisi, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ross Cronjé (c), 8 Cyle Brink, 7 Robert Kruger, 6 Stef de Witt, 5 Lourens Erasmus, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Jacques van Rooyen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Clinton Theron, 18 Pieter Scholtz, 19 Fabian Booysen, 20 Ruaan Lerm, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Jacques Nel, 23 Shaun Reynolds, 24 Bobby de Wee, 25 Ashlon Davids.
Photo: Johan Rynners/Gallo Images

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Craig Lewis