Johannesburg - USA Eagles captain Todd Clever can “feel a bit hard done by” in not making the Lions strongest side for Friday night’s pre-season match against the Pumas in Witbank.
Lions head coach Dick Muir admitted that Clever – or “captain America” – as some Lions fans dubbed him last season, was very close to the strongest side, and that there was very little to choose between him and new recruit Jonathan Mokuena, who was selected ahead of Clever for the game.
Muir will be looking for a “constant improvement” from his players in their final outing after they were soundly beaten by the Bulls last weekend in both games in Polokwane.
Still, with Muir professing “the door is certainly not closed yet for anyone”, there will be a lot to play for in both the early game against the Leopards (kick-off: 16:30) or against the Pumas (kick-off: 18:30).
Clever will be in action in the early game, and will have another chance to stake a claim ahead of the former Griquas captain with a good performance.
“Both Todd and Jonathan are classy players,” Muir said, “Todd played extremely well against the Bulls and can possibly feel a bit hard done by in not making the Red team, but it was extremely close.”
Muir is particularly looking for players who show the necessary hunger and heart to make it into the starting line-up, with challenges across the board for players to show what they are made of.
“We’re expecting a constant improvement in the form. I really felt the guys played reasonably well against the Bulls – you must remember they are a formidable outfit and while we chose two evenly matched teams last week, I’ve very interested to see how these two sides perform when they combine into stronger units.”
Muir admits he has made up his mind in most positions, but that there are still places where he can be convinced to change his thinking.
Some selections – like scrumhalf JP Joubert and Earl Rose’s inclusion on the bench are purely because they are returning from injuries. Muir dismissed suggestions that Rose’s disciplinary issues, which flared up again in recent weeks when he arrived late for practices, were “trivial and sorted out in-house".
Former All Black flyhalf Carlos Spencer will also get his first run out in a Lions jersey, with much expected from the Aucklander when he takes control in the main game on Friday night.
“Carlos has been ready to go for a few weeks now. We just felt it better to give him a bit of a rest and he will be itching to get onto the field,” Muir added.
“He is a really good team man and we’re sure his influence will be felt as he settles into the side.”
The Lions coach added that he was also looking for mature performances from the likes of Jannes Labuschagne, Herkie Kruger and Doppies la Grange, who will form the senior leadership on the evening, and who have important roles to play in this regard as the season moves on.