Johannesburg - Lions coach John Mitchell has included 19-year-old lock Paul Willemse among the nine changes he made to his starting XV, ahead of their Super Rugby match against the Cheetahs, in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The Johannesburg-based side’s lineouts have been a constant headache for Mitchell, and has experimented with a number of players in the second row.
Willemse will be the sixth lock the Lions have selected in the second row with Franco van de Merwe the only constant featuring player.
The youngster will replace Marius Coetzer, who will join the other three locks, Wikus van Heerden, Hendrik Roodt and Stephan Greeff that have been either rejected or nursing injuries.
"I was thinking of giving him a start at Currie Cup, but clearly because of the position we are in he will have to start at this level,” Mitchell said about Willemse’s selection.
"He's got an exceptional future so I'm not asking a lot of him in this performance, I'll just be asking him to be who he is and play to his strengths and hopefully he gets a lot of enjoyment out of it."
The Lions coach on Saturday bemoaned his side’s second-half performance in their 23-13 defeat to the Crusaders after they led the seven-time champions 13-10 at the half-time break.
This weekend the Lions will come up against a resurgent Cheetahs team, who returned from their most successful Australasian tour with a win in New Zealand and Australia each.
While the Lions narrowly won the first encounter 27-25 in Johannesburg, the Cheetahs’ rampant 47-38 over the Hurricanes should give the Lions some food for thought.
Mitchell, however, said his team would only focus on what they needed to do in order to bring their four-match losing streak to an end.
“We have prepared as well as we can and we have a specific way that we want to play, and it is up to us to implement that and be accurate against a team that has come back with a lot of confidence,” said Mitchell. While injuries have plagued the Lions since the start of the season, the side welcomes back playmaker flyhalf Elton Jantjies who replaces Butch James, who moves to inside centre.
James will partner Alwyn Hollenbach in the midfield.
"He (Jantjies) is obviously a young player, he's got an extremely good aptitude for the game and he attacks the line very well and probably sees space a little bit better in my view,” said Mitchell.
“He's a constant threat with or without the ball and his kicking out of hand is far better.”
Jaco Taute, who covered at outside centre will move back to fullback, which sees James Kamana drop to the bench.
Among the changes to the forwards, Martin Bezuidenhout replaces Callie Visagie at hooker, who drops down to the bench.
Cobus Grobbelaar comes off the bench to replace Derick Minnie at flank, with Minnie moving across to the other side.
Lions skipper Joshua Strauss will return to eighthman in the place of Warren Whiteley, and drops out the match 22 altogether.
15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Ashley Johnson, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 George Earle, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Coenie Oosthuizen
Substitutes: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Andries Ferreira, 19 Justin Downey, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Philip SnymanLions:
15 Jaco Taute, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Alwyn Hollenbach, 12 Butch James, 11 Andries Coetzee, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Joshua Strauss (captain), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen
Substitutes: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Marius Coetzer, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Michael Bondesio, 21 Lionel Mapoe, 22 James Kamana