Johannesburg - Prior to his long injury lay-off, Cheetahs flank Heinrich Brüssow was considered to be one of the best open-side flanks in the business.
At his team announcement on Thursday, Lions coach John Mitchell said he agrees with that statement, but added that his men are not that far off the pace.
“Brüssow is obviously going to be strong on the ground, I rate him big time and certainly felt the Boks missed him or that kind of skills set last year,” Mitchell said on Thursday.
“But I also rate my loose forwards and I think they are world class and they will go on to play Tests eventually,” he added.
Mitchell made two changes to his starting line-up for Saturday’s Super Rugby derby against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, yet, most pundits were far more interested in the former All Black coach’s views on the breakdown specialist.
“We’ve obviously got history on the skills sets of Brüssow. He’s an outstanding open-side flank but so is Derick Minnie so it should be a pretty big contest,” he reiterated.
This week, former Sharks scrumhalf Rory Kockott will earn his first starting cap ahead of Jano Vermaak who took a knock to the head in last week’s match against the Blues.
As a result, Michael Bondisio has been promoted from the Vodacom Cup team to halfback cover on the bench.
Mitchell also decided to reward former All Blacks Sevens star James Kamana with a start at fullback ahead of Jaco Taute.
While the Lions have made only two changes to their run-on side and one switch on the bench, the Cheetahs have decided to field five new faces in their team's first XV this weekend.
Mitchell said the men coming into the Free State squad are very similar to the ones they are replacing.
“All we can control are the positions that they have selected,” he said.
“We don’t see a lot of difference at fullback so there should be a similar approach there.
“Sias (Ebersohn) is running flyhalf so again he is probably not much different to Olivier."
Asked what he is expecting from the opponents, Mitchell highlighted that there have been great improvements in the Cheetahs’ squad since their last meeting.
“They’re very direct, very blunt, and they defend a lot better since the Currie Cup.
“They always pride themselves on their directness and they have great belief at home.
“Then you have Ashley Johnson who, I think, is a key figure. He provides an enormous amount of momentum.”
The Lions will travel to Bloemfontein in search of their first Super Rugby victory since May 8 2009.
15. Riaan Viljoen, 14. Philip Snyman, 13. Robert Ebersohn, 12. Andries Strauss (captain), 11. Ryno Benjamin, 10. Sias Ebersohn, 9. Sarel Pretorius, 8. Ashley Johnson, 7. Philip van der Walt, 6. Heinrich Brüssow, 5. Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4. Martin Muller, 3. WP Nel, 2. Ryno Barnes, 1. Coenie Oosthuizen
Substitutes: 16. Skipper Badenhorst, 17. Kobus Calldo, 18. Kabamba Floors, 19. Francois Uys, 20. Tewis de Bruyn, 21. Naas Olivier, 22. Fabian Juries
15. James Kamana, 14. Lionel Mapoe, 13. Waylon Murray, 12. Doppies La Grange, 11. Michael Killian, 10. Elton Jantjies, 9. Rory Kockott, 8. Warren Whiteley, 7. Josh Strauss, 6. Derick Minnie, 5. Franco van der Merwe (capt), 4. Wikus van Heerden, 3. Patrick Cilliers, 2. Bandise Maku, 1. JC Janse van Rensburg
Substitutes: 16. Martin Bezuidenhout, 17. Kevin Buys, 18. Michael Rhodes, 19. Cobus Grobbelaar, 20. Michael Bondesio, 21. Burton Francis, 22. Jaco Taute