Lions name team for Hurricanes season opener

Warren Whiteley says the Lions are excited about the 2016 format

Lions head coach Johan Ackermann has named his 23-man Super Rugby team to play the Hurricanes in their season opening fixture on Friday.

The Lions host the Hurricanes at Ellis Park in Johannesburg which is now known as Emirates Airline Park

Ackermann has combined both a boost of youth and experience in his side with last year’s star player Marnitz Boshoff starting at flyhalf with Elton Jantjies on the replacements bench.

The run-on side is almost a mirror image of the team which featured in last year’s Currie Cup final, with Ackermann making only two changes.

“It is nice to have that core and that balance going into a second Super Rugby campaign,” Ackermann said in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

“There was stiff competition in quite a few of the positions and it was tough to select the 23.”

Ackermann opted for 20-year-old Malcolm Marx at hooker ahead of Armand van der Merwe.

“I think it is easier for Malcolm as a relatively new Super Rugby player to start and get the feel of the game. He has the energy any new player would have,” Ackermann said.

“Akker (Van der Merwe) has the ability to change the game come the second half.”

Ackermann said Marx’s physical attributes reminded him of Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis and the KES old boy had made massive strides.

“We were excited about him last year but he realised he had to become a little bit more mobile and he worked extremely hard,” he said.

“He is still as strong as a beast but he is running with the front guys. He is extremely fit. What makes me excited now is his physical attributes and in my view he can become a Bismarck du Plessis type player with a presence at ruck time and in defence, while he is getting better in the set phases.”

Ackermann’s playing resources have greater depth and experience this year, with a full season of Super Rugby and Currie Cup behind them.

“At loose forward, hooker, flyhalf and reasonably at centre … there is a lot more depth than a year or two ago,” he said.

“It is a long haul for us — nine weeks — and we have to rotate players and keep players fresh.”

In the flyhalf position, the Lions have an abundance of talent with Marnitz Boshoff getting a run at number-10 ahead of Elton Jantjies, who will be playing off the bench.

Jantjies is back from his stint with Japanese club NTT Shining Arcs after missing the Currie Cup season.

Last year’s Currie Cup saw the emergence of Jaco van der Walt, who would be pushing both Jantjies and Boshoff for a starting berth.

“Those two are quality but make no bones about it, Jaco will not lie back,” Ackermann said.

Lions captain Warren Whiteley said they hope to build on the momentum gained in last year’s Currie Cup, and the entire squad had grown in experience.

“We’ve been together long enough now, we’ve all been through a Super Rugby campaign,” Whiteley said.

“Our biggest challenge will be mentally this year and to just keep our feet on the ground.

“We know the threat the Hurricanes pose, they are a fantastic side with dangerous players all over the park.”

Lions

15. Andries Coetzee , 14. Ruan Combrinck , 13. Lionel Mapoe , 12. Howard Mnisi , 11. Courtnall Skosan , 10. Marnitz Boshoff , 9. Ross Cronje , 8. Warren Whiteley (c) , 7. Derick Minnie , 6. Jaco Kriel , 5. Franco Mostert , 4. Martin Muller , 3. Ruan Dreyer , 2. Malcolm Marx , 1. Schalk van der Merwe

Replacements : 16. Armand van der Merwe , 17. Corne Fourie , 18. Jacques van Rooyen , 19. Robert Kruger , 20. Warwick Tecklenburg , 21. Faf de Klerk , 22. Elton Jantjies , 23. Stokkies Hanekom

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