Lombard's big chance to shine for Lions

    2019-04-18 21:00

    Brenden Nel -

    Johannesburg - Some of the Lions team selections may point to the fact they have written Friday’s game against the Chiefs off, but the match still presents young former Junior Bok Gianni Lombard with a chance to make a claim as heir to Elton Jantjies’ throne.

    Lombard has had only cameo performances this season and has impressed, kicking the winning penalty in the comeback victory over the Rebels and looking good whenever he has taken the field.

    And while the youngster certainly is rated as a future star and has an immense amount of talent, he hasn’t been thrown into the cauldron of Super Rugby fire with a New Zealand side yet.

    But coach Swys de Bruin has handed him the mantle this weekend, and has already indicated that he will start Lombard with the purpose – if all goes well – of playing him for 80 minutes in the 10 jersey.

    Jantjies may well be on the bench, but the plan is to play him at 12 if he comes on to give Lombard a full run against the Chiefs to show what he can do.

    A prodigious playmaker, Lombard has long been rated in the junior ranks as someone who will wear the Green and Gold before too long. His performances in the SuperSport Challenge have caught the eye and he ranks alongside a host of junior player the Lions have in their ranks that are slowly starting their breakthrough season.

    “We are really satisfied with Gianni,” De Bruin said from Sydney, where the team based themselves for most of the week, “And while we didn’t get the win (against the Brumbies) there was a lot of satisfying things on attack. We will work on some of the defensive problems with the team.”

    Lombard is a player that relishes the big time, and came through the ranks having played at under-13 and under-18 Craven weeks as well as distinguishing himself on the athletics field, where he represented South Africa in the 400m hurdles at the World Junior Championships as well.

    With a turn of speed and a best off 11.18 in the 100m, Lombard is no slouch, and his acceleration off the mark has seen him score many a try and was a frequent talking point when he starred for his school Paarl Boys High a few years back.

    Since then two seasons with the Junior Boks put him in a group of players that hasn’t lost to a New Zealand team before, and with Wandisile Simelane he was on the winning side at under-20 level.

    Hamilton produces a different challenge for the young Lombard, but if the winning kick against the Rebels shows anything, it is that he can handle the pressure when it is on.

    In that game when the pressure was on, De Bruin and his assistants backed Lombard to take the game for them when many coaches would have searched for another option.

    "Those bunch of youngsters had to dig deep. When I pulled Elton Jantjies, I knew it could come down to a pressure kick," De Bruin back after the victory.

    "(Backline coach) Neil de Bruin sat next to me and he said he backed Gianni to step up and slot one if it came to that.

    "Stars are made for big moments and to slot that kick there, maybe Gianni is a future star."

    Friday’s game gives a young talent like Lombard a bigger stage on which to shine. A stage where many have found it difficult to compete.

    But De Bruin and co know that if he already has little fear for the big stage, and if he makes it through the firestorm in Hamilton he will face, that the Lions have a potential superstar in their ranks.

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    Friday, 24 May 2019
    • Chiefs v Reds, FMG Stadium Waikato 09:35
    • Brumbies v Bulls, GIO Stadium 11:35
    Saturday, 25 May 2019
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    Friday, 31 May 2019
    • Blues v Bulls, Eden Park 09:35
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