JOHANNESBURG - Swys de Bruin takes charge of the Lions as head coach for the first time this week. And his number one priority in the coming weeks and months is to ensure the Lions become a transformed rugby side.
Outgoing coach Johan Ackermann - who will join up with his new team, Gloucester, this week - achieved many highs during his five years in charge, but his Lions team remained largely untransformed; possibly the only blight on his time in Joburg.
Sure, Ackermann didn’t win the Super Rugby title, but his team played in back-to-back finals, and the Lions recorded several firsts during his time in charge. No one will be able to say it wasn’t a successful five years for the former Springbok lock, but there is a strong argument that he didn’t do much to help national coach Allister Coetzee - or even Heyneke Meyer before him - when it comes to reaching transformation targets.
The reality is Coetzee has to have 50 percent black player representation in his Bok side for the 2019 World Cup in Japan and so to achieve this he’ll need every Super Rugby franchise in the country to give black players a fair opportunity to get into the Bok team.
Ackermann only regularly picked backs Courtnall Skosan, Lionel Mapoe and Elton Jantjies during the Super Rugby campaign. Sylvian Mahuza, who warmed the bench for much of the season, made it four black players out of 23. That is simply not good enough.
Madosh Tambwe filled in on the wing until Ruan Combrinck returned from injury and he showed promise, but never got much of a look-in after the Bok winger nailed down his spot again, while Anthony Volmink, Fabian Booysen, Sti Sithole and lock recruit from the Bulls, Marvin Orie, hardly got an opportunity. Howard Mnisi spent the entire campaign on the sidelines because of injury, but he did play regularly last year.
When compared to the Stormers, Bulls, Sharks, Kings and Cheetahs, the Lions have simply not done their bit to help the Bok boss and do what is morally the right thing to do. It’s now up to De Bruin to “fix” what Ackermann neglected.
“I trust in Swys and believe he can take this team further, to the next step,” said Ackermann, after Saturday’s Super Rugby final, of the man replacing him as head coach. “He’s got a quality group of players to supporting him.”
That is, indeed, the case even if the likes of Faf de Klerk and Akker van der Merwe have been lost to Lions rugby, and there could be a few more men heading elsewhere. Ackermann’s son, Ruan, is rumoured to be in line to team up with his father in Gloucester.
Also, the Lions will now soldier on, in the Currie Cup, without several first choice players who’ll either be involved with the Springboks during the Rugby Championship or head to Japan to play there until early next year.
But the Currie Cup affords De Bruin a chance to try new players and test different combinations. The good news for him, at this stage, is that Ruan Combrinck, Harold Vorster, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Ruan Dreyer didn’t crack a Bok call-up for the start of the Championship.
Transforming the Lions team though should be up there as priority number one for De Bruin. And just looking at the men who turned out for the Lions in their Currie Cup game against the Bulls last the weekend there are enough quality players to pick, among them Tambwe, Volminck, Booysen, Orie, Sithole, Andrew Beerwinkel, Ashlon Davids, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Bobby de Wee and Hacjivah Dayimani.
South African rugby supporters will be watching the Lions very closely in the coming weeks and months. They simply have to do more when it comes to transformation.