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The busy 'N1 highway' between Loftus and The Den

OPINION: A big local derby is on the cards this weekend when the Bulls host the Lions in a United Rugby Championship catch-up match at Loftus Versfeld.

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Lying in wait for the men from Johannesburg will be a host of familiar faces.

Through the years a plethora of Lions players have switched alliances from the red jersey to the blue one.

Similarly, Bulls players have crossed the Jukskei River in a move to Johannesburg.

Some of the current crop of former Lions players that could be lying in wait for the Lions this weekend, include Jaco van der Walt, Dylan Smith, Akker van der Merwe, Ruan Vermaak, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster and Cyle Brink.

Wandisile Simelane made the move to the Bulls in 2022 after his career stagnated at the Lions and it was clear he needed a change of scenery to get back to the form he displayed early in his career.

However, after a good start in Pretoria, the midfielder yet again struggled to get a starting berth in the Bulls side.

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Last month a deal was struck that would see the former Springbok head out once again, this time on a swap with the Stormers – which will also see Cornel Smit join the Bulls in Pretoria.

Former Lions players over the years who switched to the Bulls include Bryan Habana, Ruan Combrinck, Josh Strauss, Wikus van Heerden, Marnitz Boshoff, Jaco Pretorius, Willie Wepener, Callie Visagie, Grant Hattingh, Paul Willemse, David Bullbring, Jano Vermaak, Rudy Paige, Bandise Maku, Waylon Murray, Edgar Marutlulle and Madosh Tambwe to name a few.

Some of these players did not move directly to the Bulls from the Lions, but had a stint elsewhere as well.

Only looking at recent years, former Bulls players who embarked on the mini migration on the N1 between Gauteng’s two major rugby establishments include Franco Mostert, Burger Odendaal, Franco Naude, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Burger Odendaal, Ruan Ackermann, Jaco Visagie, Andre Warner, Courtnall Skosan, Jan-Henning Campher, Roelof Smit, Jamba Ulengo, Marvin Orie, Marnus Schoeman and Duncan Matthews.

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Looking back at the early years indicates a mass exodus of the former Northern Transvaal players in 1993.

These players were looking for greener pastures south of the Jukskei.

Among them were Uli Schmidt, Hannes Strydom, Phillip Schutte, Gavin Johnson, Johan Roux, Charles Rossouw, Heinrich Rogers, Rudolph Straeuli, Theo van Rensburg and later on Gerbrand Grobler.

But the ace up Louis Luyt’s sleeve was the recruitment of the Pretoria Harlequins coach Kitch Christie.

This would prove to be the key to Transvaal’s success in 1993.

Christie was supported by Ray Mordt as assistant and they ensured that Transvaal finally lived up to expectations.

Years later, in 2013, another coach from up north would go on to provide the rebirth of the Lions after a few dismal years.

His name was Johan Ackermann.

The Lions went on to play in two consecutive Super Rugby finals under the former big lock.

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