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Lions opt for consistency with strong team for Benneton clash

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Johannesburg – Emmanuel Tshituka will once again storm the trenches alongside the powerful tank that is Ruan Venter, with auxiliary support of Francke Horn charging forward from behind the base of the scrum when the Lions go to battle against Benetton this weekend.

Indeed, it is this consistency in selection that permeates the entire matchday 23 and which could have a positive outcome as the Joburgers seek a third consecutive victory in the United Rugby Championship after beating Glasgow Warriors and the Bulls previously.

The loose-trio forms part of an unchanged starting XV, selected by head coach Ivan van Rooyen on Friday, to face the Italian franchise on Saturday (kick-off 3pm), with the trifecta of Tshituka, Venter and Horn completing his pack.

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Tshituka, Venter and Horn have arguably been the optimal set-up for the Lions this season and have formed a healthy dynamic when selected together. They can further develop that partnership against Benetton in what is expected to be a fast-paced and loose encounter.

Earlier this week, 22-year-old Tshituka mused glowingly about his teammates, revealing that it is only a joy to play with them, while also explaining why they are forging a formidable partnership.

Said Tshituka: “Playing with Francke and Ruan, I enjoy it.

“I think we complement each other’s games quite nicely. There are certain areas where one may fall short, but another is solid.

“We all have a very particular brand of physicality, skill, X-factor and all that .. We have a good understanding on the field.

“We have played a couple of games together and I think we have got into the rhythm of things. Benetton have a couple of international loose forwards as well, so it will be a good test for us … we love that challenge.”

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Another player who has been rewarded for his stellar on-field performances recently, is tighthead prop Asenathi Ntlabakanye. Van Rooyen has kept faith in the 23-year-old, despite the return of the more experienced Springbok Ruan Dreyer, who finds himself on the bench for the encounter.

Ntlabakanye has put in some massive shifts for the team, not only at scrumtime, but defensively as well. His work-rate has been pleasing to watch, especially considering how much graft he gets through during a match.

“What has been really great – and it is not just Asenathi, although with me also having played tighthead, it does make it more special – is to see the growth in every player in the last couple of seasons,” was Lions scrum coach Julian Redelinghuys’ assessment of the prop’s recent run of form.

“To see Asen in the scrum – obviously there are guys behind him, like Manu and the locks, and I always say that scrumming is a pack thing and 16 feet that do the job – but his improvement as an individual has been massive. The determination that he has to work extremely hard on the field is something that not everyone sees but you do see the result of it.

“He is able to make a massive tackle because he is in the right position because he worked hard to get there. That, for me, is encouraging …

“He had the opportunity to learn from a guy like Dreyer, Carlu Sadie and Jannie du Plessis. That is where a team functions well – when you learn from a guy, and when you get your opportunity you grab it with both hands and show the world what you are made of.

“We knew he had but it is that little percentage of improvement every year and playing with the right guys that makes the difference.”

The Lions will also welcome back the talents and skills of lock Reinhard Nothnagel, who returns from an ankle injury sustained in December. The early-season captain will sit on the bench and is one of three changes amongst the replacements.

The other, alongside the incoming Dreyer, sees Travis Gordon make the matchday 23 as cover for the loose-trio.

Emirates Lions starting XV: 15 Quan Horn, 14 Rabz Maxwane, 13 Manuel Rass, 12 Marius Louw (capt), 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Gianni Lombard, 9 Sanele Nohamba, 8 Francke Horn, 7 Ruan Venter, 6 Emmanuel Tshituka, 5 Ruben Schoeman, 4 Willem Alberts, 3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye, 2 PJ Botha, 1 JP Smith

Replacements: 16 Morne Brandon, 17 Rhynardt Rijnsburger, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Travis Gordon, 21 Morne van den Berg, 22 Rynhardt Jonker, 23 Andries Coetzee

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