JOHANNESBURG – A lot has changed in the Lions Currie Cup set-up over the past four years.
And before this last weekend’s appearance against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld that is when Lionel Mapoe last ran out for the Johannesburg team - in 2014.
“It’s been about three years, or more (since I last played in the Currie Cup),” said Mapoe after his side had snuck a 38-35 win against the Bulls.
And the now 30-year-old only played because he had been released from the Springbok Rugby Championship squad which left for Australasia last week for matches against the Wallabies and All Blacks.
Also, he was able to play for the Lions because he no longer runs out for Japanese club Kubota Spears, who he represented between 2015 and 2017.
When Mapoe was a regular in the Currie Cup team in 2014, he was surrounded by a bunch of hopefuls like Warren Whiteley, Jaco Kriel, Elton Jantjies, Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrick, Courtnall Skosan, Franco Mostert, Ross Cronje ... the list goes on and on; all players who, like himself, would go on to play for the Springboks.
It was a year after the Super Rugby Lions had been kicked out of the competition to make way for the Southern Kings.
Now, seeing a Bok player featuring for his provincial team at Currie Cup level is almost unheard of, but Mapoe is happy to be playing among the youngsters.
“Coming back from the Boks (Mapoe represented the senior men’s national rugby team in 14 Tests) and Japan I want to help the team,” said the centre-cum-wing, who scored two tries for the Boks on his last appearance, against the Pumas in a losing cause in Buenos Aires 10 days ago.
“I want to help the team improve, put it in a better place to succeed,” he added.
Mapoe also scoffed at the theory the Currie Cup no longer has a place in South African rugby.
“Some people will say it’s a watered down competition ... but it will improve, there are Boks playing in it again.” he said. “It will improve over time, but it’s not easy.
“It’s still a great competition, especially for the youngsters. And, there are quality players coming through, who’ll be using it as a stepping stone for bigger things.”
Besides Mapoe, the Currie Cup saw Bok players like Coetzee, Skosan, Dillyn Leyds, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Damian de Allende, Curwin Bosch, Chiliboy Ralepelle and Dan du Preez, among others, all in action this past weekend.
But, like Mapoe said, it is the youngsters who have caught the eye in recent weeks, with the Lions’ Hacjivah Dayimani and the Bulls’ Manie Libbok among the big stars so far, among the up-and-coming players in the competition.
The Lions, who are two-from-two in this year’s competition after beating the Griquas and the more recently the Blue Bulls, host Free State XV at Ellis Park in their third game on Saturday.