EW Viljoen. (Photo by Gruffydd Thomas/Huw Evans Agency/Gallo Images)
- The Lions make no secret of the fact that EW Viljoen is a stop-gap measure for them at No 10 in this weekend’s URC encounter with Glasgow.
- The 26-year-old utility back has been pressed into service due to injuries to Jordan Hendrikse and Eddie Fouche.
- But coach Ivan van Rooyen admits the dynamic Viljoen brings to the Lions’ product at flyhalf is intriguing.
The Lions are under no illusions that EW Viljoen’s switch to flyhalf for Saturday’s United Rugby Championship meeting with Glasgow Warriors is nothing more than a stop-gap measure.
The 26-year-old has been unexpectedly pressed into service in the No 10 jersey after Eddie Fouche, loan player from the Pumas, injured his ankle during Thursday’s training session.
His misfortune compounds the Lions’ woes in the position, mere days after first-choice pivot Jordan Hendrikse fractured his ankle.
Yet Viljoen, a former Stormer recruited from English club Leicester in May 2020, is a strapping 1.92m, 104kg exponent specifically contracted to act as utility back.
Importantly, he shone at fullback in an overall poor team performance against the Scarlets last week, meaning he – at least – comes into his new role on the back of some confidence.
“I think it’s unfair for me to sit here and try and convince everyone that EW is an out-and-out flyhalf,” said a pretty candid Ivan van Rooyen, the Lions’ head coach, on Friday.
“But what I can say is that over the past year-and-a-half, he’s trained there quite often for us.
“It’s obviously a challenge but it also gives us something else. Having basically three centres next to each other could be an interesting dynamic.”
Viljoen, who boasts a booming boot, will also be required to fill-in as front-line goal-kicker.
“It will be him,” said Van Rooyen.
“He’s been practicing daily with all the kickers since he’s joined us, so we believe he’ll be comfortable.”
Van Rooyen isn’t too concerned about how a makeshift candidate will affect the overall rhythm and flow of a team still getting to grips with a revamped coaching staff, but admitted that Viljoen will need back-up from the men outside of him, notably midfielder and captain Burger Odendaal and fullback Divan Rossouw.
“The biggest thing is that there’s a bit more shared responsibility, sharing the organisational dutie in terms kicking and proactive communication on defence,” he said.
“But like I said, there are three big bodies next to each other and that’s an interesting prospect.”
For his part, Odendaal is more than willing to take the lead in making Viljoen’s switch as seamless as possible.
“Communication will be vital,” said the reliable inside centre.
“We pointed out last week that we lacked it. When we got under the pump and were under pressure, we went quiet. We need to keep communicating, even if we’re under pressure or in control
“EW is fulfilling a pivotal role. Communication from No 9 (Andre Warner) and I will have to be top notch to make him comfortable in what is essentially an uncomfortable situation.”
Kick-off is at 16:05.
15 Cole Forbes, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Rufus McLean, 10 Ross Thompson, 9 Jamie Dobie, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Rory Darge, 6 Ryan Wilson (captain), 5 Richie Gray, 4 Lewis Bean, 3 Murray McCallum, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Jamie Bhatti
Substitutes: 16 Johnny Matthews, 17 Brad Thyer, 18 Murphy Walker, 19 Rob Harley, 20 Matt Fagerson, 21 George Horne, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Sione Tuipulotu
15 Divan Rossouw, 14 Stean Pienaar, 13 Manny Rass, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Rabz Maxwane, 10 EW Viljoen, 9 Andre Warner, 8 Ruhan Straeuli, 7 Vince Tshituka, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Pieter Jansen van Vuren, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Sti Sithole
Substitutes: 16 PJ Botha, 17 Morgan Naude, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Reinhard Nothnagel, 20 Sibusiso Sangweni, 21 Morne van den Berg, 22 Matt More, 23 Wandisile Simelane