Lions are rebuilding... again - Super Rugby 2019 Preview
The loss of almost 50 caps worth of Test experience may not sound that dramatic, but becomes more pronounced when you look at the Super Rugby experience that departed (339 appearances).
That is when you realise the true impact the losses suffered by the Lions may have.
When the likes of Ruan Ackermann (to Gloucester), Francois de Klerk (Sale), Armand van der Merwe (Sharks) and Julian Redelinghuys (retired) were absent for the 2018 season, there were already concerns. Now add the names of Ruan Dreyer (Gloucester), Rohan Janse van Rensburg (Sale Sharks), Jaco Kriel (Gloucester), Franco Mostert (Gloucester) and Jacques van Rooyen (Bath).
Coach Zacharia de Bruin downplayed the loss of this batch of Springboks.
However, even he will admit replacing that experience will take some time.
A glance at the Lions’ provisional squad will suggest they still have enough to be competitive.
And they do have it in them to reach the playoffs again.
However, in the crunch games – especially against New Zealand opposition – they will be vulnerable. Last year they were zero from five against Kiwi teams – losing twice to the Crusaders.
Nowhere was that vulnerability more conspicuous than the 35-38 loss to the Blues in Johannesburg in Round Four. Defeats to the Jaguares (35-49, in Buenos Aires), the Reds (22-27, Brisbane) and the Sharks (24-31, Durban) also illuminated their frailties.
The advantage they have is that the head coach, De Bruin, is now in his second season in charge. He has also spent some valuable time with the Springboks.
Other members of the backroom staff that will be wiser are defence coach Joey Mongalo and forwards coach Philip Lemmer – two aspects of the Lions’ game that required plenty of improvement.
How they cope with the loss of firebrand Franco Mostert will be key.
One-time Springbok Stephan Lewies is a great acquisition, but does not bring the same physical attributes and mobility that Mostert did.
South African Conference Placing: Third
Player of the Year: Malcolm Marx
Rookie of the Year: Wandisile Simelane
Super Rugby Placing: Somewhere between ninth and 12th
Out: Ruan Dreyer (Gloucester), Rohan Janse van Rensburg (Sale Sharks), Marco Jansen van Vuuren (Sevens), Jaco Kriel (Gloucester), Franco Mostert (Gloucester), Jacques van Rooyen (Bath)
Squad (provisional): Andries Coetzee, Sylvian Mahuza, Gianni Lombard, Morné van den Berg, Ruan Combrinck, Courtnall Skosan, Madosha Tambwe, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Tyrone Green, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Jan-Louis La Grange, Louritz van der Schyff, Manuel Rass, Wandisile Simelane, Elton Jantjies, Shaun Reynolds, Eddie Fouche, Ross Cronje, Dillon Smit, Nic Groom, Wayne van der Bank, Bradley Thain, Warren Whiteley, Albertus Smith, Robert Kruger, Cyle Brink, Hacjivah Dayimani, Len Massyn, Marnus Schoeman, James Venter, Jo-Hanco de Villiers, Peter-John Steenkamp, Vincent Tshituka, Andries Ferreira, Marvin Orie, Reinhard Nothnagel, Rhyno Herbst, Ruan Vermaak, Stephan Lewies, Jacobie Adriaanse, Dylan Smith, Johannes Jonker, Sithembiso Sithole, Nathan McBeth, Carlu Sadie, Chergin Fillies, Danie Mienie, Frans van Wyk, Robbie Coetzee, Malcolm Marx, Jan-Henning Campher, Pieter Jansen.
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
By Jan de Koning @rugby365
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