Auckland - Lions prop Schalk 'Hond' van der Merwe was as "sick as a dog" after contracting a stomach virus on arrival in Auckland on Tuesday and has been ruled out of Saturday’s Super Rugby game against the Blues.
The supersport.com website reports that Van der Merwe, one of the stalwarts of the Lions scrum, contracted the virus and was confined to bed on Tuesday and Wednesday, leaving him weak and unable to train with his teammates, and prompting coach Johan Ackermann to replace him with Corné Fourie, who has impressed from the bench thus far in the season.
Fourie is one of two changes to the side that lost to the Stormers for the first tour game, with Ross Cronje returning to the 9 spot in a straight swop with Faf de Klerk moving to the bench.
Ackermann said he was planning to play Van der Merwe but the players condition warranted a rethink.
"Hond picked up a stomach virus, and was throwing up at 03:00 this morning (Wednesday) our time.
"He couldn’t train with us today and I had to take a decision.
"He looks like he will need 2-3 days to recover, so we’ve decided to give him that time," Ackermann explained.
"Corné has put his hand up on several occasions and he now has to take the step up and do his bit.
"I also thought Ross is the right scrumhalf for this game, with Faf coming on to make an impact in the second half.”
Fourie may be known as a bit of an impact player, having made an impression during last year’s Currie Cup and this year’s competition with his second half displays, but the onus will be on him to ensure the Lions have a strong scrum against a desperate Blues side.
"When I called Corné to come through to and hear he had been selected, I told him this is an opportunity for him to prove himself.
"No player has booked a jersey in this team, and if he has a good game, he can make the jersey his own.
"He has shown he can make a difference when he comes off the bench, he now needs to show he has the ability to start a game."
Ackermann said he accepted the Blues would be a "desperate" team this weekend, having lost their two games in South Africa and now needing a win at home, but the Lions would be ready for the challenge.
"I’ve said from round one that any team can beat any team on the day, and while their results haven’t been so good, they have some excellent players like Keven Mealamu and Jerome Kaino, as well as a big, strong backline.
"They will be a desperate team this weekend and we can expect a huge onslaught from them in the opening 20-30 minutes," Ackermann explained.
"Because they like to offload in the tackle a lot, there will be a lot more opportunities for both teams and we know if we can get ahead before halftime, then the pressure will be on them in the second half."
15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Charles Piutau, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Melani Nanai, Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Jerome Kaino (captain), 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi
Substitutes: 16 James Parsons, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Brendon O'Connor, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Hamish NorthcottLions
15. Andries Coetzee, 14. Ruan Combrinck, 13. Lionel Mapoe, 12. Harold Vorster, 11. Sampie Mastriet, 10. Elton Jantjies, 9. Ross Cronje, 8. Warren Whiteley (captain), 7. Warwick Tecklenburg, 6. Jaco Kriel, 5. Martin Muller, 4. Franco Mostert, 3. Julian Redelinghuys, 2. Robbie Coetzee, 1. Corné Fourie
Substitutes: 16. Armand van der Merwe, 17. Jacques van Rooyen, 18. Ruan Dreyer, 19. Robert Kruger, 20. Derick Minnie, 21. Faf de Klerk, 22. Jaco van der Walt, 23. Howard Mnisi