JC's pay-back for Lions loyalty
Lions captain JC Janse van Rensburg resisted joining the progression at the exit for a Super Rugby contract elsewhere, because he wanted to 'repay' the union for their loyalty to him.
The Lions' axing from Super Rugby has seen a number of high profile player take up temporary Super Rugby options elsewhere – most notably Callie Visagie (to the Bulls), Lionel Mapoe (Bulls), Franco van der Merwe (Sharks), Elton Jantjies (Stormers) and Jaco Taute (Stormers).
This does not include those players who permanently departed Ellis Park – Grant Hattingh (bulls), Paul Willemse (Bulls), Caylib Oosthuizen (Cheetahs), Bandise Maku (Kings), Waylon Murray (Kings), Patric Cilliers (Stormers), Michael Rhodes (Stormers), or those who left for contracts abroad last year.
Yet, the Prins Albert-born and Oakdale-schooled Van Rensburg remained in Johannesburg to help guide the Lions back to Super Rugby.
He described as a "new and exciting season" the series of challenge matches that await the young outfit before the expected return of Visagie, Mapoe, Van der Merwe, Jantjies and Taute for the season-ending promotion-relegation match against the lowest-placed South African team.
"It was the choice of those senior players [who were loaned out] to go play Super Rugby," Van Rensburg told this website in an exclusive interview ahead of their second challenge match – against the Cheetahs at Ellis Park on Saturday.
"I do support them, because they felt they wanted to play top class rugby.
"However, I feel the union has done so much to ensure we [the players who stayed on] also get top class rugby, so this is my way of repaying the union for what they have done for me over the years."
He said they are "very excited" about this coming season.
"We certainly don't see it as 'friendlies' – every game is important for us and we want to win every single game."
The opposition they will face in the coming months will be very different to the usual array of Super Rugby franchises – even though they will be up against each of the South African teams at least once.
Van Rensburg feels the variety of teams they face in the next four months will serve them well in the build-up to the promotion-relegation match.
"When we start coming up against the French clubs, Samoa and those teams it will be a very different kind of game," he told this website.
"For young players it is a great experience to play a different kind of opposition and game.
"Hopefully that will give us the edge in the future, so we can be more flexible and learn things from those teams."
The Lions captain felt the build-up to promotion-relegation game at the end of the Super Rugby season has been well-planned.
"If you look at the fixtures the union put together, all the tough and most competitive games are towards the end," he said, adding: "The French teams and Samoa – the plan is to build towards that period and hopefully we will then have a team that has played a number of games together and have confidence in their ability.
"The main goal is for us to return to Super Rugby and that takes us to the promotion-relegation game.
"Obviously we don't know who we will play [in the promotion-relegation game] – we will only get an idea of what the teams are like when the [Super Rugby] competition gets underway."
Van Rensburg said he hopes the South African franchises play as many of their top players as possible when they face the Lions.
"We want to measure ourselves against the top Super Rugby players," he said, adding: "We as a team, and personally I am also looking forward to these games."
Apart from the team's goals – which has as a premium their return to Super Rugby – Van Rensburg hopes to finally get that elusive Springbok cap.
The 27-year-old prop was a Bok tourist on the year-end tour. While he can call himself a Springbok, having toured with the team, he is keen to actually play in the Green and Gold.
While a number of his teammates took the Super Rugby 'loan' options on their contracts, Van Rensburg feels he can make as big an impression on Bok coach Heyneke Meyer at the Lions as the others do on the Super Rugby stage.
By Jan de Koning