The Lions, who reported no further injuries yesterday apart from a few hard knocks to flank Jaco Kriel, will rely heavily on the one-Test Van der Merwe, amid fears the team might hit a downward spiral again after their fairytale run came to an abrubt end last weekend.
Van der Merwe, who has played for the Lions since 2006 when he joined them from the Leopards, is by far the most experienced leader of a Lions pack who only have 12 Super caps between the tight five if Van der Merwe’s 96 caps are excluded.
The entire front row of Schalk van der Merwe, Robbie Coetzee, Julian Redelinghuys and Van der Merwe’s lock partner Franco Mostert, who all made their Super Rugby debuts in the Lions’ opening game of this year’s competition against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Last weekend against the Bulls at Loftus, the lineouts were one area where the Lions were exposed when the Bulls’ two Springbok locks Flip van der Merwe and Victor Matfield put huge pressure on the Lions, resulting in several incidents where the ball had to be tapped down, putting scrumhalf Faf de Klerk under the greatest pressure possible.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann admitted after the 25-17 defeat at Loftus that the lineouts didn’t go according to plan, but credited an old hand like Matfield for the way he conducted himself.
“We’ll have to put in a lot of hard work in this area but Victor showed he has lost little of his magic,” said Ackermann.
Van der Merwe spent a lot of time with the Sharks last year when he was on loan. This could be highly beneficial to the Lions, but with players like Pieter-Steph du Toit the Lions could have their work cut out for them.