Lions coach Johan Ackermann may be forced to change a third of his team as mounting injuries and a looming four week Vodacom Super Rugby tour compound his headaches ahead of Saturday’s clash against the DHL Stormers at Newlands.
Ackermann has already lost fullback Andries Coetzee (knee) and midfielder Alwyn Hollenbach (lip) and could lose another three players before he names his team on Thursday.
While some of the players are on the borderline whether or not they can play, Ackermann will need to weigh up whether or not to risk them this week or give them a rest to ensure they are ready for the team’s tour in a fortnight.
The Lions have a bye next week so have a bit of leeway, but Ackermann is clearly also thinking ahead.
One of the biggest problems is that the Lions could well be without their captain Warren Whiteley, who is struggling with a calf muscle injury at the moment and will be given until Thursday to prove his fitness.
“But then we have to look at the balance,” Ackermann told supersport.com, “do we play him and lose him for the tour or keep him back and ensure he is there.”
The same goes for veteran hooker Willie Wepener who has a hamstring injury. He will also be given until Thursday to prove his fitness.
Deon van Rensburg’s knee injury was not that bad, and the medical team have advised Ackermann they can play him this week if they so choose.
“But the safe option would be to rest him,” Ackermann admitted, “We need to weigh up all these options before making a decision.”
Andries Coetzee is probably the worst of the injuries and underwent a knee scrape to remove cartilage on Monday, putting him out of action for 2-3 weeks while Hollenbach’s lip injury means that nerve tissue had to be reattached. He is also likely to be out for two weeks.
If you factor in Van Rensburg, Wepener and Whiteley, that could mean at least five changes to the side that lost to the Cell C Sharks last weekend for this weekend’s game at Newlands.
“This wasn’t a good Saturday for us in terms of injuries,” Ackermann sighed, adding that the team’s depth will be tested.
If Whiteley is ruled out it is likely that Willie Britz will move to 8 with Derick Minnie and Jaco Kriel on the flank. Minnie is likely to take over as captain then as the Lions may be forced to play two fetchers in their squad.
Robbie Coetzee is the probable replacement for Wepener, with SA under-20 rep Malcolm Marx also on standbye to fill the role while the headache will also be which back three combination to choose.
Courtnall Skosan is the only man left standing at the moment but Ackermann does at least have the luxury of being able to call on Anthony Volminck, Namibian Chrysander Botha, JW Jonker and Coenie van Wyk.
“The back three will come out of those five, we need to decide which three will give us the right options,” Ackermann explained.
Either way Ackermann is hoping for a win against a hapless Stormers side this weekend to give his team confidence before they go and tour.
But first he has to sort out the injury headaches in his own camp.