Johannesburg – CPR has occurred, defibrillation has been administered and it seems to have revived the form of Gianni Lombard.
Of course, the Lions flyhalf has a long way to go to fully resurrect his career but the two starting outings he has played so far in the United Rugby Championship (URC) this season, have seen him play with renewed vigour. The 24-year-old has been instrumental in guiding the Joburgers to two brilliant victories abroad – the first against the Ospreys and more recently against Cardiff.
After the opening round defeat to the Bulls, Lombard was brought into the starting XV at No 10, and it has only worked in the favour of the Lions so far.
Jordan Hendrikse, who started against the Bulls, is undoubtedly a talented and skilled player – one many will argue has a Bok future ahead of him – but he currently lacks the composure and maturity of the older Lombard. For a 20-year-old he undeniably has some of the required world-weariness to be an excellent No 10, but he perhaps lacks the street-smarts to fully take advantage of it.
He has naturally built a following that wants him to succeed, but perhaps requires a few more years as an understudy to achieve his full potential.
Not so Lombard, who has faced adversity and overcome it, and has had a taste of the wider-world while doing so. For now, it seems, the Lions will be content to stick with Lombard, especially with their final tour match against Edinburgh on the horizon, at flyhalf.
“Jordan still has a role to play,” said Lions attack coach Ricardo Laubscher on Monday.
“We just feel with the selection now with Gianni at 10, it gives us a lot of momentum, a lot of experience on how we want to play the game. He is driving the team, whether it is in attack or defensively. We are really happy with the momentum at the moment.”
It is, of course, possible, that Hendrikse will play a larger role in the five home games to be played after the Edinburgh clash. You’d expect he would be more sure-footed on the harder surface of Emirates Airline Park, but then it will also be exciting to see an unfettered Lombard on attack.
So far, he hasn’t really had the opportunity to unleash on the sodden fields of Wales and the expected rain-drenched DAM Health Stadium this weekend.
Moreover, Lombard is also building an important partnership with half-back partner Sanele Nohamba, who has seemingly surpassed Morne van den Berg in the pecking order for the No 9 jumper. The 23-year-old has brought a degree of niggle to the Lions game, unsettling the opposition and upsetting their supporters.
Against Cardiff, an overjoyed Nohamba gave out a shout of excitement after the Lions won a penalty in the second half, and was roundly booed by the partisan crowd. The Welsh commentators also seemed to get peeved by Nohamba’s style of play but it is the type of applied irritation the Lions arguably require from their half-back right now.
It forces opposing teams to lose their temper and focus, and commit errors. Together with Lombard, the two are building a formidable partnership.
“The big thing with Senele,” Laubscher explained, “is to just get more game time. He is really in a good space. He understands the game …
“The way our nines and 10s are going at the moment, we are really happy with that. In terms of Springbok selection, that won’t be his focus. The big thing for him now is to just play well, and put in good performances week-in and week-out.”
The Lions face the Scottish franchise on Friday night. Kick-off is 8.35pm.