SA Super 14 teams focusing on form and combinations

While the Lions have opted for arguably their best two sides, the Bulls’ best will not be in view when the two franchises meet in two warm-up matches at Wits University on Saturday evening.

The score will be of lesser importance.

The Lions will start with six Springboks – Henno Mentz, Ashwin Willemse, Jaque Fourie and Earl Rose at the back and forwards Heinke van der Merwe and Jannes Labuschagne — but are still resting Andre Pretorius while Lawrence Sephaka will start off the bench.

The Bulls have rested their big guns, with the exception of Bryan Habana, Bakkies Botha and Wayne Julies who were all troubled by injuries last year.

What’s more, the first two will come off the bench towards the end of the match.

The Bulls’ depth, however, still sees a team of 12 players with Super 14 experience starting — and each one of the selected players in the “A-side” plus a number of the obvious second-stringers in the early match have the opportunity to put their hand up with a view to selection for the final squad.

Like all the other coaches the Lions’ Eugene Eloff and Frans Ludeke of the Bulls will use the match to see whether the players can stick to the required playing patterns; what the fitness levels of individuals are; and also to measure possible combinations they have in mind and also evaluate performances in the positions they see as probable weaknesses.

The Lions will be particularly interested in the performances of their new wing recruits Willemse and Mentz.

That was a weakness last year – and with a finisher of the calibre and experience of Mentz, the Lions must be hopeful of winning those close matches they let slip last year.

Rose, blowing hot and cold throughout the season, must start off well if he is to fend off the challenge from returning Bok Pretorius.

Eloff will also hope to get his back loose trio settled in this match with captain Cobus Grobbelaar and the huge Willem Alberts probably assured of their berths and the other hopefuls – including former US Eagles captain Todd Clever – vying for the other flank spot.

On the Bulls side the form of injured Springboks Julies and Chiliboy Ralepelle will be of importance to Ludeke, while the match will also afford the youngsters a chance to stake their claims for inclusion of the squad.

** Sharks coach John Plumtree has opted for a side relatively unknown at this level and his interest will be in possible recruits to bolster the already excellent depth of the Sharks.

Without virtually all their stars, they play the new-look Pumas, with eight new faces, in Witbank on Saturday afternoon in another match where the score will matter less than the performances of the players.

** The Cheetahs play Griquas at Grey College in Bloemfontein on Friday afternoon, and a few Griquas players – notably Riaan Viljoen, Dewald Pretorius, Herman Pretorius, Gavin Passens and Naas Olivier – could force their way into the selection frame.

Sapa –

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