Why Japan deal is a good fit for Lions
Many experts question the wisdom of South Africans heading abroad – mostly Japan, but some also to Europe – and returning for Super Rugby.
The argument is that they don't have a proper break and will be 'overplayed'.
The Lions, beaten finalists in 2016, will enter the competition this year with a host of their frontline players returning from Japan – including Springboks Franco Mostert (from the Black Rams), captain Warren Whiteley (Red Hurricanes), Jaco Kriel (Kubota Spears), Lionel Mapoe (Kubota Spears) and Elton Jantjies (Shining Arcs).
There is also lock Andries Ferreira, who was on loan to Toulon in France.
Their first test will come when they travel to Bloemfontein to take on the Currie Cup champions, the Cheetahs, in Round One on Saturday.
In fact Stormers coach Robbie Fleck this week suggested that the Lions will have to manage the situation carefully.
"I just know what happened to us in the past," Fleck told a media briefing at the Stormers' training base in Bellville.
"It is tough to manage that," he told the media, adding: "A guy like Eben [Etzebeth], for example, he has been playing in Japan and he came back and gave 110 percent for us.
"We have to manage him.
"Those are all things that the Lions may encounter for the first time now," he said of their Gauteng rivals.
However, Lions captain Warren Whiteley said the Japan factor will not change their approach.
"We did have a break, about two weeks, when we returned from Japan," he told rugby365 in an interview.
He said the other major advantage is that they are used to the structures at the Lions and it took them only a week to settle back in.
"It did not even feel as if we were away," he said, adding: "Nothing has changed.
"Our approach has been the same [the last few years]."
He does not feel that playing in Japan in the off-season could lead to 'overplay' or 'burnout'.
"What is good about the situation in Japan – and it changes from team to team – is that you are only allowed two international player and one uncapped foreigner per matchday squad," he told rugby365.
"You are allowed six foreigners in your broader squad.
"That means you are rotated a lot. You either start or play off the bench.
"Fortunately for me, [Springbok] Heinrich Brüssow was at my club [Red Hurricanes] and he is such a fantastic player that he started most of the games.
"What really worked well for us [the Lions] is the players who did not play a lot last year – like Franco Mostert [mostly off the bench for the Boks] and a guy like Jaco [Kriel], who did not play for South Africa on the year-end tour [because of injury]- played quite a bit [in Japan].
"They needed some game time and got that.
"The guys who played a lot [in South Africa] had less game time [in Japan].
"I played less. Elton [Jantjies] started fewer games.
"It worked out fine for us.
"All the players are feeling fresh and we are excited about the season ahead."
By Jan de Koning and Warren Fortune