Continuity will be a key ally for the Lions as they go into this Super Rugby campaign.
They have a squad that is very similar to the one that operated last season.
In fact‚ of the match squad that contested last year’s Super Rugby final‚ only scrumhalf Faf de Klerk‚ loose forward Ruan Ackermann and hooker Akker van der Merwe have moved on.
In Swys de Bruin they have a new head coach‚ who has played a key role in several squad members’ development.
De Bruin will have relatively fresh faced assistants but the Lions have experience running through the spine of their team.
Captain Warren Whiteley is back from long term injury and a short stint in Japan‚ while Jaco Kriel has also vacated the physio’s table.
Franco Mostert will again cut a towering figure in the second row‚ while South Africa’s newly installed player of the year Malcolm Marx is again likely to be a talisman in the front row.
With de Klerk gone‚ there will be pressure on scrumhalf Ross Cronjé to retain and then maintain his form from last season.
Elton Jantjies and Andries Coetzee will be keen to show that there is life after the Springboks.
The Lions appear to have a favourable draw. Should they go unscathed in their first three matches against the Sharks‚ the Jaguares and the Bulls‚ they will have a sequence of home matches which could go a long way to helping them set the tone in the local conference.
Having lost in consecutive finals they will be desperate to shed their bridesmaid’s status.
They now have sufficient experience in how to manage their resources through league play‚ before peaking for the knock out rounds.
They are almost certain to make the play-offs but whether they’ve learnt from their experiences playing knock-out football over the last two seasons remains to be seen. Players to watch:
1) Hacjivah Dayimani – the dynamic loose forward and occasional backliner has the skill and athletic ability to illuminate Super Rugby.
Whether he’ll do it this year is moot.
His transition from age group rugby to the senior ranks has been fairly seamless and big things are now expected of him.
2) Madosh Tambwe – We only saw very fleeting glimpses of what the speedster is capable of last season.
He hasn’t stretched his legs in Super Rugby but expect that to change‚ especially when the Lions are firmly on the front foot.
3) Harold Vorster – He has been one of the unheralded stars in the Lions’ setup the last few seasons.
Vorster tends to go almost unobtrusively about his business in midfield‚ whether it is taking the ball over the advantage line or stunting the opponents’ advances.
4) Dylan Smith – Just when the former King Edward VII pupil’s career was about to soar injury halted his progress last season.
He had made steady progress alongside long time teammate Marx but his full impact may only be felt this season.
5) Aphiwe Dyantyi – He may not have Jonah Lomu’s physical dimensions but Dyantyi has packed a punch after being told he was too small to play serious rugby.
He seized the moment when he played for the University of Johannesburg in the Varsity Cup and now he has an even bigger stage on which to shine.
Lions squad Backs: Andries Coetzee‚ Ruan Combrinck‚ Ross Cronjé‚ Ashlon Davids‚ Aphiwe Dyanti‚ Rohan Janse van Rensburg‚ Marco Jansen van Vuren‚ Elton Jantjies‚ Sylvian Mahuza‚ Lionel Mapoe‚ Christiaan Meyer‚ Howard Mnisi‚ Shaun Reynolds‚ Courtnall Skosan‚ Dillon Smit‚ Madosh Tambwe‚ Harold Vorster.
Forwards: Jacobie Adriaanse‚ Cyle Brink‚ Robbie Coetzee‚ Hacjivah Dayimani‚ Ruan Dreyer‚ Willie Engelbrecht‚ Lourens Erasmus‚ Andries Ferreira‚ Rhyno Herbst‚ Corne Fourie‚ Johannes Jonker‚ Jaco Kriel‚ Robert Kruger‚ Malcolm Marx‚ Len Massyn‚ Franco Mostert‚ Marvin Orie‚ Marnus Schoeman‚ Sithi Sithole‚ Kwagga Smith‚ Dylan Smith‚ Jacques van Rooyen‚ Warren Whiteley (captain).