Johannesburg – The Lions have selected a team which appears a little wet behind the ears for their Super Rugby opener against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
For their first outing in the competition since their year in the wilderness, Lions coach Johan Ackermann included six debutantes in his starting XV.
In the backline, Chrysander Botha and flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff will get their first run in the competition.
The entire front row of Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee and Schalk van der Merwe will receive a baptism of fire, getting their first taste of Super Rugby, while lock Franco Mostert will also make his debut.
The trio go up against one of the best front rows in the country as they face Springbok players Adriaan Strauss, Coenie Oosthuizen and former Lions prop Caylib Oosthuizen.
The Johannesburg outfit will rely heavily on the experience of Franco van der Merwe, who has 93 Super Rugby caps behind his name.
Lions stalwart Derick Minnie is the second most experienced player in the team with 47 first-class matches under the belt.
Ackermann admitted his young side faced an uphill battle in the competition but believed they were an unknown quantity owing to the fact they had been out of the competition for a year.
“They don't know what to expect from us and at what level we are going to be and in which areas we will challenge them,” Ackermann said.
“We still want to enjoy this campaign regardless of the results. Nobody goes onto the field to lose Ä so when those setbacks happen we still have to enjoy each other.
“We are going to go out and do our best and take it from there.”
Compared with their 2012 Super Rugby season, Ackermann said their player depth has been depleted but he was confident his young charges would grow in stature.
“f you look at the names that were here back then, we've probably lost a couple of experienced players at the top of their careers like Jaco Taute, Michael Rhodes and a few other names,” he said.
“Maybe we had more depth in terms of experience but there is a lot of potential in this team and guys who are willing to work hard.”
While Ackermann was cautious in his forecast of the team's chances in the competition, captain Warren Whiteley expressed the players' excitement about testing themselves against the best in southern hemisphere rugby.
“Consistency will be one of the most important factors, so we want to improve every single game with Super Rugby being a competition that a lot of us haven't played in,” Whiteley said.
“We worked so hard to be there and now we want to stay there, so there is a lot of excitement for us. A great challenge lies ahead and we will face it head on.”
Lions team: Chrysander Botha, Deon van Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe, Stefan Watermeyer, Ruan Combrinck, Marnitz Boshoff, Michael Bondesio, Warren Whiteley (captain), Derick Minnie, Jaco Kriel, Franco van der Merwe, Franco Mostert, Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee, Schalk van der Merwe.
Replacements: Willie Wepener, Jacques van Rooyen, Ruan Dreyer, Willie Britz, Warwick Tecklenburg, Faf de Klerk, Coenie van Wyk, Alwyn Hollenbach. - Sapa