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The dwindling numbers of Lions in Bok colours

SPOTLIGHT: The Springbok training squad of 41 players for the Rugby Championship was announced this past weekend.

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Now is perhaps a good time to talk about the ‘elephant in the room’.

There is no Lions representation at the senior national level.

In fact, there have been no Springboks that emerged from the Lions camp for the last two years.

The Springboks will kick off a bumper 2023 season against Australia in Pretoria in July in the opening round of the shortened Rugby Championship and are currently training in Pretoria. 

They will face Argentina in Johannesburg in their final match on home soil before the build-up to their World Cup defence starts.

Springbok squads since 2019 have had one very distinct character – the gradual dwindling of the number of Lions players in the Green and Gold.

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The last Lions player to be selected to the larger Springbok squad was Wandisile Simelane’ who remains uncapped after coach Jacques Nienaber called him up to the larger Bok squad for the British and Irish Lions Tour in 2021.

There must be various reasons why the tinge of red diminished dramatically in recent years.

I will try to unpack the scenario of the Lions with respect to the Springbok squads.

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

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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 as a coach during his time at the Lions was quite remarkable.

He took a Lions team that had been relegated from Super Rugby in 2013 to back-to-back Super Rugby finals in 2016 and 2017.

Ackermann was named South African Coach of the Year in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and was also head coach of the South Africa A side in 2016.

His collaboration with Swys de Bruin and Lions captain Warren Whiteley proved to be the perfect recipe for a winning combination. 

Upon Ackermann’s departure, De Bruin took over the role of head coach.

The astute coach, known for his groundbreaking contribution to the style of play and attacking patterns with which the Lions mesmerized teams and fans alike, guided the team to a third consecutive Super Rugby final in 2018.

Towards the end of 2018 De Bruin, citing a mental breakdown, was released from his contract with the Johannesburg side.

A total of nine Lions players formed part of the Springbok training group that year.

Ivan van Rooyen was appointed as Currie Cup coach for the remainder of the 2018 season and in 2019 he was subsequently appointed as head coach of the Lions. 

This is where the Lions’ dramatic fall from grace started. 

In 2019 only three players were called up to national duty, namely Malcolm Marx, Albertus Smith and Elton Jantjies. 

The year 2020 saw Covid bring the world to a stand-still and no Springbok Tests were played. 

In 2021 Simelane was the sole Lions representative at the Springbok training camps. He has not made his Bok debut yet.

He has also, since, headed out the exit door to the Bulls in Pretoria.

And from 2022 up until now not a single player from the struggling Lions has been considered for higher honours. 

All the big-name Springboks have left the franchise that can only be described as struggling and embattled. 

The list of coaches that have left the union in recent years include Joey Mongalo, Russell Winter, Philip Lemmer, JP Ferreira, Bafana Nhleko, Neil de Bruin, Warren Whiteley, Sean Erasmus, Victor Matfield and most recently Albert van den Berg.

The Lions have yet to name their new forwards coach and the names of Matthew Proudfoot and Jonathan Mokwena are mentioned, as is Wessel Roux.

While coaching must be at the heart of the demise of the Lions, poor recruitment and not contracting big-name players must be another reason the franchise has not produced any high-profile players in the last two years.

Springbok squads from 2017 – 2023 and the number of Lions representation:

2017 (34 players) – SIX LIONS

Forwards: 

Uzair Cassiem (Cheetahs), Lood de Jager (Bulls), Ruan Dreyer (Lions), Daniel du Preez (Sharks), Jean-Luc du Preez (Sharks), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Western Province), Eben Etzebeth (WP), Steven Kitshoff (Western Province), Siya Kolisi (Western Province), Francois Louw (Bath), Wilco Louw (Western Province), Malcolm Marx (Lions), Bongi Mbonambi (Western Province), Oupa Mohojé (Cheetahs), Franco Mostert (Lions/Ricoh Black Rams), Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Trevor Nyakane (Bulls), Coenie Oosthuizen (Sharks), Chiliboy Ralepelle (Sharks).

Backs: 

Lukhanyo Am (Sharks), Curwin Bosch (Sharks), Andries Coetzee (Lions), Ross Cronjé (Lions), Damian de Allende (Western Province), Warrick Gelant (Bulls), Elton Jantjies (Lions / NTT Shining Arcs), Jesse Kriel (Bulls), Dillyn Leyds (Western Province), Rudy Paige (Bulls), Handré Pollard (Bulls), Raymond Rhule (Cheetahs), Louis Schreuder (Sharks), Courtnall Skosan (Lions), Francois Venter (Cheetahs).

2018 (35 players) – NINE LIONS

Forwards:

Cyle Brink (Lions), Jean-Luc du Preez (Sharks), Thomas du Toit (Sharks), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers), Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), Steven Kitshoff (Stormers), Siya Kolisi (Stormers), Francois Louw (Bath), Wilco Louw (Stormers), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Malcolm Marx (Lions), Bongi Mbonambi (Stormers), Franco Mostert (Lions), Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Sikhumbuzo Notshe (Stormers), Marvin Orie (Lions), RG Snyman (Bulls), Akker van der Merwe (Sharks), Marco van Staden (Bulls), Warren Whiteley (Lions).

Backs: 

Lukhanyo Am (Sharks), Ross Cronjé (Lions), Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks), Aphiwe Dyantyi (Lions), André Esterhuizen (Sharks), Elton Jantjies (Lions), Jesse Kriel (Bulls), Willie le Roux (Wasps), Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks), Lionel Mapoe (Lions), Lwazi Mvovo (Sharks), Embrose Papier (Bulls), Handré Pollard (Bulls), Ivan van Zyl (Bulls), Damian Willemse (Stormers).

2019 (31 players) – THREE LIONS

Forwards

Schalk Brits (Bulls), Lood de Jager (Bulls), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers), Eben Etzebeth (Stormers), Steven Kitshoff (Stormers), Vincent Koch (Saracens), Siya Kolisi (Stormers), Francois Louw (Bath), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Malcolm Marx (Lions), Bongi Mbonambi (Stormers), Franco Mostert (Gloucester), Tendai Mtawarira (Sharks), Trevor Nyakane (Bulls), Albertus Smith (Lions), RG Snyman (Bulls), Duane Vermeulen (Bulls).

Backs

Lukhanyo Am (Sharks), Damian de Allende (Stormers), Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks), Warrick Gelant (Bulls), Elton Jantjies (Lions), Herschel Jantjies (Stormers), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse), Jesse Kriel (Bulls), Willie le Roux (Wasps), Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks), Sbu Nkosi (Sharks), Handre Pollard (Bulls), Cobus Reinach (Northampton), Frans Steyn (Montpellier).

2020: Covid

2021 (46 players)- ONE LION

Backs

Aphelele Fassi (Sharks), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse), Willie le Roux (Verblitz), Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks), Sbu Nkosi (Sharks), Yaw Penxe (Sharks), Rosko Specman (Cheetahs), Damian Willemse (Stormers), Lukhanyo Am (Sharks), Damian de Allende (Munster), Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles), Wandisile Simelane (Lions), Frans Steyn (Cheetahs), Elton Jantjies (Pau), Handré Pollard (Montpellier), Morné Steyn (Bulls), Faf de Klerk (Sale Sharks), Herschel Jantjies (Stormers), Sanele Nohamba (Sharks), Cobus Reinach (Montpellier).

Forwards

Thomas du Toit (Sharks), Steven Kitshoff (Stormers), Vincent Koch (Saracens), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Ox Nché (Sharks), Trevor Nyakane (Bulls), Coenie Oosthuizen (Sale Sharks), Joseph Dweba (Bordeaux-Bègles), Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears), Bongi Mbonambi (Stormers), Scarra Ntubeni (Stormers), Lood de Jager (Sale Sharks), Eben Etzebeth (Toulon), Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg (Montpellier), Franco Mostert (Honda Heat), Marvin Orie (Stormers), RG Snyman (Munster), Dan du Preez (Sale Sharks), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Stormers), Siya Kolisi (Sharks), Kwagga Smith (Yamaha Júbilo), Marco van Staden (Bulls), Duane Vermeulen (Bulls), Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers), Jean-Luc du Preez (Sale Sharks), Rynhardt Elstadt (Toulouse).

2022 (28 players) – zero LIONS

Forwards: 

Thomas du Toit (Sharks), Steven Kitshoff (Stormers), Vincent Koch (unattached), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Ox Nche (Sharks), Trevor Nyakane (Racing 92), Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears), Bongi Mbonambi (Sharks), Lood de Jager (Wild Knights), Eben Etzebeth (Sharks), Jason Jenkins (Leinster), Salmaan Moerat (Stormers), Marvin Orie (Stormers), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz), Siya Kolisi (Sharks), Evan Roos (Stormers), Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs), Marco van Staden (Bulls), Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers, Deon Fourie (Stormers), Franco Mostert (Honda Heat)

Backs: 

Faf de Klerk (Canon Eagles), Jaden Hendrikse (Sharks), Cobus Reinach (Montpellier), Manie Libbok (Stormers), Damian Willemse (Stormers), Damian de Allende (Wild Knights), Andre Esterhuizen (Harlequins), Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles), Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz), Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks), Sbu Nkosi (Bulls), Kurt-Lee Arendse (Bulls), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulon), Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (Stormers)

2023 (41 players) – zero LIONS

Forward: Thomas du Toit (Sharks), Steven Kitshoff (Stormers), Vincent Koch (Stade Francais), Frans Malherbe (Stormers), Ox Nche (Sharks), Trevor Nyakane (Racing 92), Joseph Dweba (Stormers), Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears), Bongi Mbonambi (Sharks), Lood de Jager (Wild Knights), Eben Etzebeth (Sharks), Marvin Orie (Stormers), RG Snyman (Munster), Pieter-Steph du Toit (Toyota Verblitz), Siya Kolisi (Sharks), Evan Roos (Stormers), Kwagga Smith (Shizuoka Blue Revs), Marco van Staden (Bulls), Duane Vermeulen (Ulster), Jasper Wiese (Leicester), Jean-Luc du Preez (Sale Sharks), Deon Fourie (Stormers), Franco Mostert (Honda Heat).

Backs: Faf de Klerk (Canon Eagles), Jaden Hendrikse (Sharks), Herschel Jantjies (Stormers), Cobus Reinach (Montpellier), Grant Williams (Sharks), Manie Libbok (Stormers), Handre Pollard (Leicester), Damian Willemse (Stormers), Lukhanyo Am (Sharks), Damian de Allende (Wild Knights), Andre Esterhuizen (Harlequins), Jesse Kriel (Canon Eagles), Kurt-Lee Arendse (Bulls), Cheslin Kolbe (Toulon), Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz), Makazole Mapimpi (Sharks), Canan Moodie (Bulls).

 

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