Emmanuel Tshituka. (Photo by Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images)
- Rising Lions star Emmanuel Tshituka’s “tricky” red card and ban has now become problematic for the side ahead of their meeting with Leinster.
- A dynamic ball-carrier, Tshituka’s absence along with Ruan Venter’s suspected concussion leaves the Lions short of bulldozers in the collisions as they aim for an improbable URC play-off place.
- Bok legend Schalk Burger, though, believes a spot in the top 8 is a long shot anyway.
Emmanuel Tshituka’s “tricky” red card, given in a sterling Challenge Cup win over Racing 92 and consequently translating into a three-week ban, has now become thoroughly problematic for the Lions ahead of Saturday’s URC meeting with a youthful but talented Leinster combination.
The imposing 22-year-old utility forward has grown in stature as part of a potent loose trio that also includes Ruan Venter and Francke Horn, but his absence has robbed the side of a dynamic ball-carrier.
And with Venter expected to miss the Leinster meeting due to suspected concussion sustained early in last weekend’s Challenge Cup defeat to Glasgow, the men from Doornfontein could lack presence in collisions.
Head coach Ivan van Rooyen admitted the gifted 20-year-old is the Lions’ main creator of momentum because of his unflinching physicality.
Opinion is still divided on Tshituka’s sanction. Former Springbok star and television pundit Schalk Burger, who was initially critical of the on-field decision, admits that he is still unsure about the decision, although it followed the letter of the law.
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“With Emmanuel, it’s so tricky to determine whether there was separation with the elbow or not,” Burger told a media roundtable.
“That’s what he got done for, just lifting his elbow up a bit. If the tackler was low, he would’ve squashed him and would’ve stayed down on him, but because the tackler jumped up, you sort of lead with the elbow.
“Look, with today’s laws, it’s a red card. But I guess what we’ve all got is the players are guilty first and foremost and a red card is the entry level. Then you have to rely on the ref and the TMO to determine how does one find a mitigating factor.
“It’s going to take a brave referee to change that around.”
The Lions, currently 11th on the log, need to win both their remaining URC matches to have any chance of staking a claim for the playoffs, but Burger wonders whether that’s a realistic aim anyway.
“They’re going through a transition and, to be honest, I just don’t believe they have the depth and the quality that the other three franchises have. They’ve delivered some good performances and surprised at times this season, but they didn’t have the consistency.”
However, their best moments this season, especially an unbeaten first tour to the UK at the start of the campaign, suggest that if they can keep their core squad together, the success in Super Rugby between 2015 and 2018 can be replicated.
“They were struggling in Super Rugby and within a few years reached three finals, so they can definitely turn it around. It looks a long shot currently though,” said Burger.
Saturday’s match against Leinster kicks off at 16:00.