January 24, 2018 - I read a lot of comments from Lions supporters stating that they are worried about the future of the Lions, and honestly I can't understand where this worry comes from.
We've just experienced the best two years in Super Rugby in our history, and considering that only three players that were part of the 23-man squad that played in the Super Rugby final in August 2017 left the Lions, I believe that we should have another great year in 2018.
The three players that won't be available for us in the 2018 Super Rugby campaign are Ruan Ackermann, Akker van der Merwe and Faf de Klerk. Surely we will miss all three, but one of the things that I've learnt as a rugby supporter is that it's a given that players won't stay with your team forever, sooner or later they will leave, and often this gives another junior player the opportunity to step into his place and perhaps do even better than the player that left!
We've had a change of coach as well, but Swys de Bruin was the assistant coach in the time that Johan Ackermann was so successful at the Lions, and now he gets the opportunity to show that he also deserved some of the credit for the team's good showing over the past two years.
There are some injury worries, Jaco Kriel will miss the first month or so of the competition, but I believe a player like Kwagga Smith will slot nicely into the number 6 jersey for now, and there are a few other very capable loosies that will challenge for a spot in the team, like Hacjivah Dayimani, Marnus Schoeman, Pikkie de Villiers, Len Massyn and James Venter.
Courtnall Skosan picked up a knee injury in training on Monday that will see him miss the entire Super Rugby season, while Ruan Combrinck is also only expected to return from his injury in March, but again we have youngsters like Gianni Lombard, Madosh Tambwe, Aphiwe Dyantyi and Wandisile Simelane to make the step up, and coach Swys could even consider a natural footballer like Hacjivah on the wing.
Some good news is that captain Warren Whiteley is over his injury and have played in a couple of matches for his Japanese club in December and January, and should be fully fit to be back as captain and number 8.
This Saturday the Lions will play the Bulls in a pre-season friendly at Ellis Park, entrance is free and the kick-off is at 15:00. Both the Lions and the Bulls opted to pick mostly players that won't be certain starters in Super Rugby, but it gives these players a great opportunity to show what they bring to the table.
Lions: 15 Gianni Lombard; 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Manny Rass, 12 Howard Mnisi (c), 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi; 10 Ashlon Davids, 9 Marco Janse van Vuren; 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Hacjivah Dayimani, 6 Marnus Schoeman, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 PJ Steenkamp, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Corné Fourie, 1 Sti Sithole: Replacements: 16 Pieter Jansen, 17 Cohen Kiewit, 18 Jaco Willemse, 19 Pikkie de Villiers, 20 James Venter, 21 Len Massyn, 22 Christiaan Meyer, 23 Shaun Reynolds, 24 Louritz van der Schyff, 25 Wandisile Simelane.
Bulls: 15 Ulrich Beyers, 14 Irvin Ali, 13 Dries Swanepoel, 12 Heino Bezuidenhout, 11 Andell Loubser, 10 Tony Jantjies, 9 Ginter Smuts, 8 Boom Prinsloo (captain), 7 Rickert Korff, 6 Shaun Adendorff, 5 Abongile Nonkontwana, 4 Ewan Coetzee, 3 Matthys Basson, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Dewald Maritz Replacements: 16 Nqoba Mxoli, 17 John-Roy Jenkinson, 18 Simphiwe Matanzima, 19 Thomas Meyer, 20 Pieter Diergaardt, 21 Adre Smit, 22 Oderich Mouton, 23 Vaughen Isaacs, 24 Lian du Toit, 25 Garrick Matthews, 26 Jerome Bossr, 27 Christiaan Strydom, 28 Earll Douwrie, 29 Gareth Heidtmann