Johannesburg – The Golden Lions went about their business this week despite a possible EP Kings player strike hanging over their Currie Cup fixture in Johannesburg on Saturday.
The EP Kings players and the union’s management are at loggerheads over apparent delays in player payments.
A threat of a player strike emerged this week but the union told Sport24 it expected the match to go ahead.
“We sympathise with what is happening there, it is not easy on any rugby player but we can’t read too much into that from a preparations point of view,” said Johan Ackermann, coach of the Lions.
“Off the field we can share our sympathies but on the field it is a game we have to win and I expect nothing less than their best attitude no matter how they prepare.”
The only real disruption from a Lions point of view was the last-minute calf injury Warren Whiteley suffered ahead of the team announcement.
Whiteley was set to make his return to the side since the big Springbok cull from last week and was penciled in to lead the team out on the field.
“He looked energised, and excited as Warren always is and would bring experience. It was my plan to rest some players this weekend so he would have helped,” said Ackermann.
Instead, centre Howard Mnisi will take the reins for the first time. He becomes the second former Standerton High School pupil, after Jaco Kriel, to lead the side this season.
Ackermann said Mnisi was the natural choice to lead the side thanks to his work ethic and the example he set both on and off the field.
“Howard has shown that he can lead the backs and he is also a player that can play 80 minutes throughout the season,” the Lions mentor said.
“We are confident he has the ability to lead the team so it is great to have him as a captain.”
Thursday’s press conference evolved into a frank discussion about transformation with Ackermann pointing out the so-called players of colour in his side had been selected purely on merit.
“We would like to promote transformation, and we would like to see more black or players of colour play the game,” Ackermann said.
“I can honestly say the players are selected on merit, and I am proud to say the guys have worked hard to get where they are.”
Meanwhile, thanks to Whiteley’s injury Kwagga Smith will move into the starting line-up as blindside flanker with Fabian Booysen moving to eighthman.
Hooker Malcolm Marx will receive a starting berth in the place of Robbie Coetzee while prop Julian Redelinghuys also moves into the starting XV replacing Ruan Dreyer.
MB Lusaseni has been included at lock for Franco Mostert, who has been given a rest this week.
In the Lions backline Lohan Jacobs will start at scrumhalf taking over from Ross Cronje, while Jaco van der Walt has been given an opportunity to start at flyhalf with Marnitz Boshoff shifting to the bench.
Anthony Volmink will start at left wing, while Ruan Combrinck shifts to right wing to make space for Andries Coetzee at fullback while Stokkies Hanekom will partner with Mnisi in midfield.
The match will get underway at 19:10.
15. Andries Coetzee, 14. Ruan Combrinck, 13. Stokkies Hanekom, 12. Howard Mnisi (captain), 11. Anthony Volmink, 10. Jaco van der Walt, 9. Lohan Jacobs, 8. Fabian Booysen, 7. Kwagga Smith, 6. Stephan de Wit, 5. Martin Muller, 4. MB Lusaseni, 3. Julian Redelinghuys, 2. Malcolm Marx, 1. Jacques van Rooyen
Substitutes: 16. Robbie Coetzee, 17. Ruan Dreyer, 18. Lourens Erasmus, 19. Jano Venter, 20. Ricky Schroeder, 21. Marnitz Boshoff, 22. Jacques Nel.
15. Hansie Graaff, 14. Siyanda Gray, 13. Ronnie Cook, 12. Tim Whitehead (c), 11. Sylvian Mahuza, 10. Karlo Aspeling, 9. Dwayne Kelly, 8.Paul Schoeman, 7. Stefan Willemse, 6. Thembelani Bholi, 5. Cameron Lindsay, 4. Tazz Fuzani, 3. Simon Kerrod, 2. Edward Marutlulle, 1. Lizo Gqoboka
Substitutes: 16. Michael van Vuuren, 17. Basil Short, 18. Cornel Hess, 19. Eital Bredenkamp, 20. Enrico Acker, 21. Elgar Watts, 22. JP du Plessis.