‘Cash’ van Rooyen on the money with Sanele Nohamba flyhalf selection

Sanele Nohamba of the Emirates Lions during the United Rugby Championships 2023 match between Lions v Dragons at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg

It was clear during pre-season already that the Lions would rely on the nuggety Sanele Nohamba to stand in as a pivot, but only in a moment of crisis. Picture: Nokwanda Zondi/BackpagePix

Published Jan 19, 2024


At the start of the 2023/24 season, very few rugby lovers would have had “Sanele Nohamba over-performs at flyhalf” on their bingo card.

Indeed, as the Lions started the United Rugby Championship in September last year, it was expected that Nohamba would be the incumbent scrumhalf, with Morné van den Berg deputising in the position.

Outside of them, Jordan Hendrikse would slot in at No 10, with Gianni Lombard and the newly acquired Kade Wolhuter his support. Form and injury, however, and head coach Ivan “Cash” van Rooyen’s own tactical development and appreciation of the moment, inspired a different choice.

It was clear during pre-season already that the Lions would rely on the nuggety Nohamba to stand in as a pivot, but only in a moment of crisis. Hendrikse had just returned from a serious injury – his form short and confidence shot, which was evident in the Lions’ URC opening games.

Big risk

The call to make Nohamba the first-choice flyhalf, therefore, was a significant risk. Now, some quarters of South African rugby are positively frothing about the possibility of seeing the 24-year-old reaching for a Test debut due to his performances at pivot.

Commendations have been secured about the positional switch as Van den Berg and Nohamba’s halfback partnership solidifies into a formidable combination. Earlier this week, Van Rooyen was full of praise regarding the pairing, although he remained sheepish in taking credit for it, as he explained the reasoning behind the selection. “(Nohamba) is a quality rugby player,” he said.

“The players probably don’t like it that much, but we want to have versatile players ... for us, we see it as a benefit. We felt at that stage that it was a good decision for us, and the bigger picture, in driving the attack a little bit. (Van den Berg) was training really well. His kicking game is worldclass and we felt, at that moment, it is something that we needed. “Unfortunately, Kade and Gianni were still injured. Jordan was kind of the only 10.

“So, at that stage we felt it was a good way for us to go in on it… We’ve seen in training what he can do at 10. With the Sharks in Super Rugby, he played 65 or 70 minutes at 10 and he really played well.

“It was a collective decision from the coaches, and it just shows the quality.”

Van Rooyen has been head coach of the Lions since 2021, while Nohamba joined the union two years ago after departing the Sharks in search of more game time.

As Nohamba has developed, so too has his coach; and with the time spent in the hot seat comes understanding and intuition. That also played its part.

Said Van Rooyen: “It is a gut feeling for the decision to happen, but it is also a buy-in from everyone to make the decision happen.

‘Nice baller’

“There was no flinching when we said Sanele is going to play 10, or when we started training like that. We want to pick the best players as often as we can, and he is a nice baller.

“He has got unbelievable skills, he has got vision and he can see the game happening. He has got a good kicking game, so it just made sense for us at the time.”

The Lions face the Ospreys in the final match-day of the pool stages of the Challenge Cup on Sunday at Ellis Park (3pm kick-off).

The Joburgers have already secured progression to the round of 16 of the tournament, but who they face and where they will play must still be decided.

Van den Berg and Nohamba are expected to continue their partnership this weekend, but it is not impossible that former Baby Bok Nico Steyn also has a run-out in the No 9 jumper as just reward for his performance against Montpellier last weekend.


IOL Sport