New beginnings for Lions
SUPER RUGBY PREVIEW 2020 – TEAM BY TEAM: It is a new season and, as is traditional, the year is met by baroque hopefulness and idealism.
It is understandable. No game has been played yet and the Lions haven’t lost yet.
However, a reality check is in order.
Let’s start with leadership.
Yes, the injured Warren Whiteley is still around, helping out in an off-field, mentor, role.
But his on-field presence is what they missed most in 2019. His departure – first as a result of a pectoral injury and then a recurring knee injury – saw a dramatic decline in the team’s composure last year.
The result was a ninth-place finish – their lowest since their return from exile in 2014.
And you can’t underestimate the coaching upheavals.
Swys de Bruin, after first ditching the team in New Zealand in April, through his stress-related illness, then ended his seven-year association with the franchise in October.
He is now a ‘coaching consultant’ with the Southern Kings.
Ivan van Rooyen has a decent coaching pedigree, having joined the Lions in 2009. The sport scientist worked with the junior sides and also assisted Wayne Taylor with the Super Rugby and senior Currie Cup sides. He became head of Strength and Conditioning in 2012.
The Lions’ success after their return from exile in 2014 and subsequent Super Rugby finals in 2016, 2017 and 2018 was also due to the high level of fitness installed by Van Rooyen. He headed up the coaching staff of the Lions in the 2018 and 2019 Currie Cup seasons, with the team advancing to the Final last year.
But question marks remain.
Let us take a look at the experience they have lost since last year.
Gone are Whiteley (injured), Malcolm Marx (playing in Japan), Jacobie Adriaanse (retired), Albertus Smith (in Japan) and Lionel Mapoe (in France).
Those are all seasoned heads that could bring a measure of calmness.
It does not include the host of other talented players that departed the franchise.
There was a genuine attempt to add some experience. Veteran Springbok Jannie du Plessis (after five years in France), loose forward Roelof Smit (from the Bulls) and Dan Kriel (from the Stormers).
It is an attempt, at least.
However, it doesn’t really inspire confidence if you are an objective observer.
- Continue reading below …
South African Conference Placing: Fourth
Player of the Year: Carlü Sadie
Rookie of the Year: Manuel Rass
Super Rugby Placing: Outside the top 10
In: Jannie du Plessis (from Montpellier), Marko Janse van Rensburg (from Pumas), Roelof Smit (from Bulls), André Warner (from Bulls), James Mollentze (from Free State Under-21), Tiaan Swanepoel (from West Harbour, Sydney), Dan Kriel (from Stormers), Duncan Matthews (from Bulls), Jamba Ulengo (from Blue Bulls).
Out: Warren Whiteley (injured), Robbie Coetzee (released), Malcolm Marx (to Shining Arcs), Jacobie Adriaanse (retired), Danie Mienie (to Rovigo), Lourens Erasmus (to Red Hurricanes), Robert Kruger (to Shining Arcs), Stephan Lewies (to Harlequins), Albertus Smith (to Júbilo), James Venter (to Sharks), Nic Groom (to Edinburgh), Lionel Mapoe (to Stade Français), Harold Vorster (to Wild Knights), Ruan Combrinck (to Stade Français), Aphiwe Dyantyi (suspended), Madosh Tambwe (to Sharks), Sylvian Mahuza (to Shining Arcs).
Squad (provisional): Jannie du Plessis, Johannes Jonker, Nathan McBeth, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Carlü Sadie, Sti Sithole, Dylan Smith, Frans van Wyk, Jan-Henning Campher, Marko Janse van Rensburg, Pieter Jansen, Rhyno Herbst, Reinhard Nothnagel, Marvin Orie, Ruben Schoeman, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Ruan Vermaak, Cyle Brink, Hacjivah Dayimani, Marnus Schoeman, Roelof Smit, Vincent Tshituka, Len Massyn, Ross Cronjé, Dillon Smit, André Warner, Elton Jantjies, James Mollentze, Shaun Reynolds, Tiaan Swanepoel, Dan Kriel, Duncan Matthews, Manuel Rass, Wandisile Simelane, Louritz van der Schyff, Tyrone Green, Stean Pienaar, Courtnall Skosan, Jamba Ulengo, Andries Coetzee, Gianni Lombard.
Best finish: Champions in 1993 (Some purists dismiss their Super 10 title as being in the amateur era. They were runners up in 2016, 2017 and 2018)
Worst finish: Fifteenth in 2012