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Why Lions are sending their 'reserves' to Montpellier

INTERVIEW: The Lions have their sights firmly set on a place in the United Rugby Championship play-offs.

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Coach Ivan van Rooyen on Tuesday named a squad consisting mainly of reserves for the Challenge Cup Round Three trip to France.

Sitting pretty in second place in Pool Two, the Lions face Montpellier Hérault (the team that tops Pool Two) at Stade Yves-du-Manoir, then host Ospreys at Ellis Park in the next round.

The winner of the face-off between Montpellier and the Lions will almost certainly top the group.

Both Newcastle Falcons and Perpignan face must-win games on Friday, at home to Benetton and away to Ospreys respectively.

Lose and both are all but out, while for their opponents, a win will set each up nicely for a final weekend tilt at Round of 16 qualification.

However, it is the top-of-the-table clash in Montpellier where the focus is.

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Lock Darrien Landsberg is the only player from the starting XV that beat the Sharks this past weekend that will head to France.

Quan Horn, Richard Kriel, Henco van Wyk, captain Marius Louw, Edwill van der Merwe, Sanele Nohamba, Morné van den Berg (ruled out with concussion), Francke Horn, Ruan Venter, Emmanuel Tshituka, Ruben Schoeman, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, PJ Botha and JP Smith all stayed behind to prepare for next week’s arrival of the Welsh side, Ospreys..

The team in France will be captained by replacements hooker Jaco Visagie, and features other bench players like Morgan Naudé, Ruan Smith, Hanru Sirgel, JC Pretorius, Jordan Hendrikse and Rynhardt Jonker.

However, it includes other quality players like Springbok Andries Coetzee, Gianni Lombard, Manuel Rass, Stormers flyhalf Kade Wolhuter, Corne Fourie and Ruan Smith.

(Continue below …)

Challenge Cup Pool Two play-off prospects

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The Lions are now on a five-match winning streak, after coming from 15 points down at half-time and keeping the Springbok-laden Sharks scoreless in the second half – recording a 20-18 United Rugby Championship Round Eight catch-up win.

The win saw the Lions move to 11th place on the standings, with 23 points – within touching distance of the eight-placed Ospreys (25 points).

Their last loss was a 17-24 reverse to Irish province Ulster at Ravenhill Stadium in Belfast, back on November 17.

They have subsequently beaten Zebre (61-19 in the URC), the Dragons (49-24, URC), Perpignan (28-12, Challenge Cup), Newcastle Falcons (35-13, Challenge Cup) and the Sharks (20-18, URC).

With a seat at the top table in Europe (the Champions Cup) at stake for a URC top-eight finish, the next fortnight is a vital stretch for the Lions.

The coach, Van Rooyen, said the URC remains their ‘immediate focus’ and the team sent to France seems to back that up.

“It [URC] is the competition we want to excel in,” he told @rugby365com.

“We got off to a decent start in the EPCR [Challenge Cup],” the coach said, adding: “The next two rounds will determine where we are in that tournament.”

The split squad – one travelling to Montpellier and another staying at home to prepare for Ospreys – was pre-planned.

Van Rooyen said they hope to continue their ‘run’ in January and keep the good vibe going around the team and the franchise after a few barren years.

“We want to believe, as a system, that we can keep growing – in terms of attack, defence, et piece and kicking game.

“We just want to be as consistent in terms of our systems and processes as possible.”

Lions squad for Montpellier

Backs: Andries Coetzee, Erich Cronje, Baldwin Hansen, Jordan Hendrikse, Rynhardt Jonker, Gianni Lombard, Johan Mulder, Stean Pienaar, Manuel Rass, Nico Steyn, Kade Wolhuter

Forwards: Morné Brandon, Izan Esterhuizen, Corne Fourie, Travis Gordon, Darrien-Lane Landsberg, Morgan Naudé, Etienne Oosthuizen, Heiko Pohlmann, JC Pretorius, Raynard Roets, Hanru Sirgel, Ruan Smith, Ruhan Straeuli, Conrad van Vuuren, Jaco Visagie

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