Can Emirates Lions Turn Season Around Against Cardiff?


The Emirates Lions will target their clash against Cardiff, who have lost just one of their last five fixtures against South African opposition, to bounce back from a disappointing start to the year in which they suffered five defeats in a row, and the fact that they only trail the visitors by six points on the log will charge them up to change their fortunes in the competition.

With the Johannesburgers languishing at the lower end of the table, Ivan van Rooyen’s team will be under immense pressure to win as they prepare for a good home stretch and make up much-needed ground in the competition.

The Emirates Lions must use their dominance up front to bully their Scottish visitors into submission before they start their expansive brand of rugby. If not they could face yet another disgrace at home.

Instrumental lock forward, Reinhard Nothnagel makes his return to the Emirates Lions match-23 ahead of their rescheduled Vodacom United Rugby Championship fixture against Welsh outfit, Cardiff Rugby at Emirates Airline Park. Sunday’s clash takes place four months after the original fixture was postponed amid Covid-19 concerns.

The return of Nothnagel relieves the pressure at lock for the Lions, and his inclusion certainly bodes well for the Johannesburg-based team come lineout time.

“We’re pretty pleased to have Notties back. Our lineout stocks have been quite thin due to injuries, so to have him at number 5 is quite exciting,” said Emirates Lions head coach, Ivan van Rooyen.

The match-23 also sees the return of the Tshituka brothers, after missing out on the recent Leinster trip.

Van Rooyen further went on to say that although he and his management had long prepared for Cardiff Rugby, additional homework was necessary leading up to Sunday.

“Cardiff will be an interesting tussle this Sunday. They will be the first international team we face at home in the competition.”

“We had prepared quite intensely for them previously, so this week has been focused on tweaking a few things, having analysed their play over the past two months.”

“It’s a home game so we are backing ourselves for a positive result. The players are feeling upbeat attitude-wise, especially after our spirited performance away to Leinster a fortnight ago,” he concluded.

“We are pretty excited to face Cardiff this Sunday,” said Van Rooyen. 

Jarrod Evans will make his 100th Cardiff appearance on Sunday as the Blue and Blacks take on Emirates Lions in the United Rugby Championship.

Having been developed through the pathway system, the outside half made his debut for the club’s first team against Glasgow Warriors in 2015. 

An eight-times capped Welsh international, who played a key role in the club’s Challenge Cup victory in 2018, Evans will now reach a century of appearances in the famous Blue and Blacks jersey in the Johannesburg encounter.

After being forced off the pitch during the second half of last week’s defeat to Ulster, Evans is passed fit to wear the number 10 jersey, continuing his partnership with Lloyd Williams at half-back.

Dai Young has made a total of five changes following the defeat in Belfast, with Matthew Morgan introduced at full-back as Hallam Amos drops to the bench.

With Willis Halaholo reunited with the Wales squad, Ben Thomas comes into partner Rey Lee-Lo in midfield, with the Samoan international marking a significant milestone of his own, reaching 100 appearances in the United Rugby Championship.

Corey Domachowski returns to the front row at Emirates Airlines Park to link up with Kirby Myhill and Dmitri Arhip, as the Moldovan makes his 50th appearance in the blue and black jersey.

Josh Turnbull and Matthew Screech are named in an unchanged second row, but there are two changes in the back row as Shane Lewis-Hughes and Will Boyde return to the starting XV. 

The clash on Sunday sees club captain Turnbull over-taking Ian Keatley in second place in the league’s all-time appearance makers (217), trailing only behind former Connacht back-row John Muldoon (254).

Looking ahead to the clash, the director of rugby Young said: “It wasn’t just a case that I wasn’t happy with last week’s defeat, but the players are honest enough with themselves as well.

“The first thing you have to do is look at yourself. I put my hand up and said that I couldn’t have got it right. The reality is that 1 to 23 wasn’t at the races, so preparations couldn’t have been right.

“In saying that, the players were also honest enough to put their hands up. They knew that wasn’t good enough and we’ll have to bounce back this week.

“We’re very respectful of the team that we’re facing and we know these are real quality teams. I know it’s a cliché, but we know we’ll need to be at our best to come away from South Africa with anything.

“A big focus has been on getting ourselves right and back up to the performance levels that we’re happy with. If we adhere and play to those standards but aren’t good enough on the day, then so be it.

“We’re very respectful of them, and know their strengths, but we also want to play to our strengths.”

Amongst the replacements is hooker Kristian Dacey, who is set to feature for the first time since October’s win over Dragons, while Rory Thornton also recovers from the shoulder injury which kept him out of the clash at Kingspan Stadium.

Following his release from the Wales squad earlier this week, Ellis Jenkins will look to bring impact from the bench and is one of 15 academy graduates named in the matchday 23.

Weather: 24° with a light breeze from the northwest, partly cloudy with no rain expected.
Prediction: Emirates Lions by 5.


Emirates Lions: 15. Quan Horn, 14. Stean Pienaar, 13. Wandisile Simelane, 12. Burger Odendaal, 11. Edwill van der Merwe, 10. Jordan Hendrikse, 9. Morne van den Berg, 8. Francke Horn, 7. Vincent Tshituka, 6. Jaco Kriel (c), 5. Reinhard Nothnagel, 4. Ruben Schoeman, 3. Carlu Sadie, 2. Jaco Visagie, 1. Sithembiso Sithole. Replacements: 16. PJ Botha, 17. JP Smith, 18. Ruan Dreyer, 19. Ruan Venter, 20. Emmanuel Tshituka, 21. Nico Steyn, 22. Manuel Rass, 23. Tiaan Swanepoel.

Cardiff: 15. Matthew Morgan, 14. Owen Lane, 13. Rey Lee-Lo, 12. Ben Thomas, 11. Aled Summerhill, 10. Jarrod Evans, 9. Lloyd Williams, 8. James Botham, 7. Will Boyde, 6. Shane Lewis-Hughes, 5. Matthew Screech, 4. Josh Turnbull (c), 3. Dmitri Arhip, 2. Kirby Myhill, 1. Corey Domachowski. Replacements: 16. Kristian Dacey, 17. Brad Thyer, 18. Will Davies-King, 19. Rory Thornton, 20. Ellis Jenkins, 21. Jamie Hill, 22. Max Llewellyn, 23. Hallam Amos.