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Bok camp: Lions players turn the corner

SPOTLIGHT: The Lions are now doing their talking on the rugby field resulting in six of their players being invited to the first Springbok alignment camp in Cape Town.

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It is clear that the former embattled team from Johannesburg have put their woes and inner turmoil on the backburner and slowly went about their business on the field, yielding some sterling performances in both the United Rugby Championship and the Challenge Cup.

While they are still only 11th on the URC table, they are one of the top three teams with the most bonus points in the competition.

Earlier this week, SA Rugby announced the 43 players that would assemble in Cape Town on March 4 for the team’s first gathering following their World Cup triumph in France in 2023.

Six of those players hail from the City of Gold – one forward in Ruan Venter and five backs namely Sanele Nohamba, Jordan Hendrikse, Quan Horn, Morne van den Berg and Henco van Wyk.

It is no secret that things started going south quite quickly for the embattled Johannesburg side, especially after the departure of their former coaches Johan Ackermann and Swys de Bruin.

While coaching must have been at the heart of the demise of the Lions at that time, poor recruitment and not contracting big-name players were the main reasons the franchise did not produce any high-profile players in the last two years.

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Looking back to 2017, when Johan Ackermann was coach, six Lions were selected for the squad of 34 players.

Ruan Dreyer, Malcolm Marx, Franco Mostert, Andries Coetzee, Ross Cronjé, Elton Jantjies, and Courtnall Skosan donned the Green and Gold that year.

The heroics of Ackermann in collaboration with De Bruin during their time was quite remarkable.

Since then the Lions’ representation at national level had deteriorated to zero over the last two years.

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Jumping ahead to 2023, a triumphant year for the Springboks, more internal issues came to the fore.

There was the survey done by the players on their coaches and the spy-gate drama around forwards coach Albert van den Berg, who then opted not to renew his contract. He is now the forwards coach at Scarlets.

All of that is hopefully now in the past. Van Rooyen has gone on to surround himself with some strong people like Barend Pieterse (forwards coach), Ricardo Loubscher (backline and skills), Jaque Fourie (defence), and Morne Steyn (kicking consultant).

Looking at the Lions players who have caught the eye of Erasmus, there is no denying that they have been some of the in-form players this season.

Nohamba is now one of the most talked-about players in the country. His move from scrumhalf to flyhalf was genius and he has excelled, making it hard to ignore him.

Van den Berg has been a focused, hard-working scrumhalf since his early days at the Lions. The livewire and unpredictable ‘Krappie’ stepped into the big boots of Bok Faf de Klerk, and while it looks like they have a similar look and feel, the strongly built Van den Berg has invented his own style with quick clean-out, sniping runs and strong defence.

Ruan Venter, described by many as a powerhouse, is a strong competitor who doesn’t shy away from the physical, in fact, he relishes it. Who can forget his demolition of Hamish Watson in the United Rugby Championship in 2022, when he was only 19 years old. He has been called ‘the next best thing in SA Rugby’ and his time has arrived.

 

The other three backs, Jordan Hendrikse, Quan Horn and Henco van Wyk have all been talking points at braaivleis fires around the country for the last two years. It is finally their opportunity to make the step to the next level.

Springbok squad of 43 players:

Forwards: Eben Etzebeth (Sharks), Neethling Fouche (Stormers), Johan Grobbelaar (Bulls), Celimpilo Gumede (Bulls), Cameron Hanekom (Bulls), Andre-Hugo Venter (Stormers), Vincent Koch (Sharks), Elrigh Louw (Bulls), Wilco Louw (Bulls), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Bongi Mbonambi (Sharks), Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears), Ntuthuko Mchunu (Sharks), Salmaan Moerat (Stormers), Ox Nche (Sharks), Ruan Nortje (Bulls), Evan Roos (Stormers), Kwagga Smith (Blue Revs), Gerhard Steenekamp (Bulls), Marnus van der Merwe (Cheetahs), Ruben van Heerden (Stormers), Marco van Staden (Bulls), Ruan Venter (Lions), Jan-Hendrik Wessels (Bulls).

Backs: Lukhanyo Am (Sharks), Kurt-Lee Arendse (Bulls), Faf de Klerk (Eagles), Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (Stormers), Suleiman Hartzenberg (Stormers), Jaden Hendrikse (Sharks), Jordan Hendrikse (Lions), Quan Horn (Lions), Herschel Jantjies (Stormers), Jesse Kriel (Eagles), Willie le Roux (Bulls), Manie Libbok (Stormers), Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks), Canan Moodie (Bulls), Sanele Nohamba (Lions), Morne van den Berg (Lions), Henco van Wyk (Lions), Grant Williams (Sharks), Damian Willemse (Stormers).

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