I have not seen the WP and other major Western Cape and Eastern Cape CW sides play but I had the opportunity to see most of the individuals representing these sides. Do that make me qualified to make the Lions an early favourite to the title. No definitely not.
After the match at the Noordvaal Bondedag, I am convinced that my first evaluation of this Lions team was more or less correct. I am now more than ever convinced that the selection and management of the team will be the deciding factor in the success of the Lions at the 2017 Craven Week team.
The forwards of the Lions "will" be the best at the Craven Week with an interesting match up if/when they meet the Sharks team in the final. But for the final, I will make some major tweaks to the pack. I would move Keegan Glade to the loosehead where he did play before and use his bulk more in the loose where he will have a major impact. Dameon Venter, one of the iron men of schoolboy rugby will be my starting hooker known and respected for his hard work in the loose and on the ground as well as strong scrummaging and near perfect lineout throws.
My tight head will be Ntlabakanye Asanathi from St Stithians. This boy who is a hero at his school disappointed me to such an extent when I first saw him against St Johns that I said he would not even make the Noorvaal u/19 team if I was a selector. Luckily I am not a selector and Ntlabakanye was given the chance to play at the Noordvaal Bondedag and boy did he "improve". His tackle on the flyhalf of the Griffons will be remembered for a long time by the spectators and I am sure by the flyhalf even longer. This front row will not be moved by any other in South Africa and will certainly be felt by the opponents in the loose.
At lock, I will be even more controversial and move PJ Jacobs to 5 and keep Cristen van Niekerk at four. They will not only bolster the front row in the physical department but both boys are more than able in carrying the ball when the game requires it. I do have a small problem with losing Stephan le Roux's lineout abilities at 4 but was ensured when asked that PJ Jacobs are better than good in the lineouts. But ........... The use of captain, Travis Gordon in the lineouts at the back will give the Lions more than their fair share of lineout possession.
Then my loose forwards? Morne Brandon at seven, which I do feel could be his best position and this will give him the freedom to do what he is best at, running with the ball and tearing the opposition's defence apart. Another reasoning behind Morne's inclusion at seven is the freedom this will give Mark Snyman to do what he is known for, to tear the defence apart of the opposition.
In 2016 I criticised Mark for not doing what a no. 6 need to do, win turnover ball on the ground. This year Mark really impressed me and became the most exciting real no. 6 in the country, or maybe I just missed his efforts on the ground in 2016. During the Lions Bondedag game, Mark was fighting a lone battle on the ground to such an extent that a lot of people said he had a bad game. He did not, he did what a real no. 6 must do, but with the inclusion of Dameon Venter at hooker Mark will be able to do what he is best at, run. The inclusion of Morne will also help a lot with his speed to help to defend at the back which I still believe is the major problem in the backline.
At the back, I will make Luke Rossouw my first choice flyhalf. He is a flyhalf that also distributes well BUT he can run with the ball himself and will keep the opposing backline guessing the whole time unlike on Saturday where nobody worried about the flyhalf and could concentrate on the rest of the backline. Making defending a whole lot easier. The rest of the backline picks itself but I still can only shake my head in disbelief when trying to reason why the Monnas fullback Dandre Prinsloo was not selected. But I must accept that I can also be wrong.
Easy ne, but I will not be criticised as much as the coaches will when the teams do not win. Good luck.