Cape Town - After a disastrous campaign last season, Lions coach Mziwakhe Nkosi says his team are determined to “go deep” in the Currie Cup this time around.
And the Johannesburg side have shown their intent by picking a strong side featuring a number of players from their United Rugby Championship squad for Saturday afternoon’s opener against Western Province at Ellis Park (3.30pm kickoff).
The Lions won just two out of 12 fixtures last season and ended bottom of the log with only 15 points as they selected mainly youngsters throughout.
But Nkosi said the scheduling of the various competitions have helped him to call on a number of experienced campaigners.
The pack of forwards is a case in point. Sti Sithole, Jaco Visagie and Ruan Smith make up a formidable front row, and the same applies to Pieter Janse van Vuuren and Darrien Landsberg at lock.
Openside flank Sibusiso Sangweni has been a busy part of the URC outfit as well, while scrumhalf Morné van den Berg and right wing Stean Pienaar have played against European opposition too.
“Last year was difficult for the URC teams, as it started in January, as well as the excitement of the URC and where the SA teams were on the table, there was a massive focus to make an impression,” Nkosi said yesterday.
“This season, the unions have put their heads together and working out how to best manage the demands of the Currie Cup and URC. The scheduling is also a whole lot better, with a two-week break before the next URC game, and the EPCR competition allowing the franchises to pick stronger Currie Cup sides.
“There’s probably a better mix than what we’ve seen in the past. We want to be competitive every week and want to go deep in the competition. Griquas last year weren’t really in the running at Easter, and before you know it, they were in the semis.
“You never know what might happen. People thought the Cheetahs would win the competition last season, but the Pumas picking a competitive team and having consistency in selection helped them to go all the way.”
The Currie Cup team will be captained by No 8 Travis Gordon, who said that he expects Western Province to play a similar style to the Stormers – while the Capetonians also have the same coaching group led by John Dobson.
Nkosi wants to bring through his coaching style as well, but recognises the fact that the Currie Cup side must develop players for the URC squad as well.
“It (playing style) will be a hybrid of the two (between URC and Currie Cup), with players going up and down. But while I am part of the collective, I also have an identity as a coach, and I’ve got to try to get that identity across to the team, and the team’s got to represent who I am as much as we are aligned to doing and what this franchise is,” he said.
“I’ve also got to be realistic with the playing personnel I have at my disposal, as some of the guys were on the URC bench previously.
“It’s very difficult to operate in isolation, but the Currie Cup is there to serve the URC team.
“Ours is to serve the URC. A guy like Krappie (Van den Berg) is a case in point. Sanele Nohamba’s form has warranted his selection, but Morné hasn’t had any game-time. So, we are happy for him to play for us, but we are also aware that in a week or two, he will go back to the URC team.
“But you’ve also got to be your own team, and try to go deep into the competition.”
Lions Team: 15 Tiaan Swanepoel 14 Stean Pienaar 13 Matt More 12 Tyler Bocks 11 Boldwin Hansen 10 Vaughan Isaacs 9 Morné van den Berg 8 Travis Gordon (captain) 7 Ruan Delport 6 Sibusiso Sangweni 5 Darrien Landsberg 4 Pieter Janse van Vuuren 3 Ruan Smith 2 Jaco Visagie 1 Sti Sithole.
Bench: 16 Michael van Vuuren 17 Morgan Naudé 18 Kabous Bezuidenhout 19 Raynard Roets 20 Ruhan Straeuli 21 Jarod Cairns 22 Nico Steyn 23 Zeilinga Strydom.