Lions defence coach, Joey Mongalo. Photo: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG - Despite it being contested over just one round of six matches, and it being without several high-profile Springboks who are on Rugby Championship duty, Lions assistant coach Joey Mongalo has hailed the Currie Cup as a crucial competition, which is being played at a very high standard.

Also, he said, there is no better competition than the Currie Cup to blood new players and get them ready for Super Rugby. “The Currie Cup is awesome and we in South Africa are so fortunate to have it,” said Mongalo on Tuesday.

“We’re able to breed future Bok players amidst current Bok players. There’s such a great mix in it now, with seniors playing alongside juniors; just look at a guy like Wandisile Simelane playing next to Courtnall Skosan, one a Junior Bok, the other a Springbok. What a great place for young players to grow.

“Just look at the 2015 Currie Cup winning team of the Lions ... 13 Boks came out of that matchday squad. This is not a watered down competition, the standard has been very high, and it’s a competition we have to hang on to in this country.”

The Lions are currently second in the standings, behind Western Province on points difference, after winning their first two games. That despite being without 15 players who would be considered first choice Super Rugby picks.

But, the Lions still have in their ranks the likes of Skosan, Andries Coetzee, Lionel Mapoe, Howard Mnisi, Marvin Orie, and Sylvian Mahuza, who are all seniors and lending a helping hand to the juniors in the group. Mongalo said there was no better place for a young player to be in South Africa right now than at the Lions.

“There is no better place or time than now to be at the Lions,” insisted Mongalo. “The Under-19 players I coached a few years ago are now playing in the senior team. And they’ve got experienced men around them. The synergy being built here will be taken forward into next season.

“But, we have to credit all the guys in the coaching system, from Herkie Kruger and Bafana Nhleko in the juniors ... we all play the same style of rugby here, there’s real synergy, and the players can play across any age group. It’s something that comes to them easily and smoothly ... and that’s because of the unity in the union.”

Speedy wing Mahuza, who is getting plenty of game time with the likes of Aphiwe Dyantyi and Ruan Combrinck out of the picture at the moment, said the blend between youth and experience was working well for the team.

“It helps that we can call on Boks like Marvin (Orie) and Lionel, and all of us can give a helping hand to the youngsters, like Wandisile. “We’ve made a good start to the competition, with an almost new-look team, after Super Rugby. The new guys are taking their chances, and that’s always a good thing.”

The Lions, who are coming off a win against neighbours, the Blue Bulls, are next up in the Currie Cup on Saturday when they host Free State at Ellis Park.

IOL Sport

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