Lions make six changes for Bulls clash

The all-new front row comprises of Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee and Schalk van der Merwe.

FILE: The all-new Lions front row comprises of Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee and Schalk van der Merwe. Picture: Facebook.

JOHANNESBURG - Lions coach Johan Ackermann on Wednesday made six changes to his side to host the Bulls in their Super Rugby clash on Saturday.

In the backline, Ackermann recalled centre Stokkies Hanekom to the starting line-up while Chrysander Botha starts on the left wing.

Courtnall Skosan is back on the right wing after recovering from an injury.

In the forwards, an all-new front row comprises of Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee and Schalk van der Merwe.

Ackermann says they've struggled with injuries this season.

"We've been unfortunate with centres getting injured this season. At one stage, Alwyn [Hollenbach] was out, Dylan des Fountain was finished with his rugby, and Stefan Watermeyer and Lionel Mapoe were out. Luckily, Alwyn was back and Stokkies had played well for the Vodacom Cup side in the last few weeks. He now deserves this opportunity to start."

The clash against the Bulls will mark a welcome return to Ellis Park after a four-game tour of Australasia that saw the Johannesburg-based side lose all their matches.

The team started well in the competition with four wins from their first six games, but struggled ever since.

Captain Warren Whiteley says the team needs to let the disappointment of this season motivate them to make an impact during next season's campaign.

"I think it is disappointing in some aspects after the way we started with those four wins in six games. But we're learning and we're growing as a group and I think internally, we can feel that change is happening, with growth and excitement amongst the players. We're gaining experience every day."

Changes at boardroom level for the Lions sees Rudolph Straeuli take over as Chief Executive Officer from 1 June.

With the Currie Cup now being the team's focus, Straeuli has set out his targets.

"I think all our teams last year played in the semi-finals of the Currie Cup, and that should be our company's goal and the Lions' goal, for the Under 19, Under 21 and the senior team. But Super Rugby isn't finished yet and we might still surprise a few teams."

Bulls coach Frans Ludeke made three changes to his starting line-up.

Jacques Engelbrecht moves from the bench to start at number eight, with Grant Hattingh moving to lock in place of Victor Matfield who is rested.

In another rotational change, Marcel van der Merwe will start at tight head with Werner Kruger playing off the bench.

Ludeke says Matfield needs the break.

"The plan was always to use Victor wisely through the campaign. It was never the plan to play him in so many games. When we picked up all those injuries on tour, it was vital for Victor to help stabilise our campaign. At this stage, the timing is much better to manage him now."

The coach of the Pretoria-based outfit says he has faith that Hattingh can do Matfield's job during lineout time.

"The plan was also for Grant to start the last five games in the starting line-up and planning the lineouts with Victor. That was always the plan moving forward and we've got confidence in Grant and the rest moving forward."

Ludeke says Flip van der Merwe's experience will be key in Matfield's absence.

"Flip is part of our leadership and he had an awesome game last week against the Brumbies. He is vital for us this weekend, and Paul [Willemse] will come on at a vital stage during the game and play a huge role."