JOHANNESBURG - While the Lions’ Currie Cup dreams are over, they will go into the summer break knowing they have still gained plenty over the last eight to 10 weeks.
In the shortened competition, which included six round-robin games as well as a play-off match for the Joburg side, they managed to grow their depth at player and coaching level, and will be better for it come the Super Rugby competition next season.
And while they went down 33-24 to the Sharks in Durban in Saturday’s semi-final, they fought back strongly in the second half after being 23-3 down at one stage - an indication there is still plenty of spirit, desire and hunger in the Lions squad.
Stand-in coach Ivan van Rooyen admitted after the match that while defeat at the last-four stage “hurt” he was happy to see so many youngsters get a chance over the course of the competition.
Here one thinks of the likes of exciting backs Wandisile Simelane and Shaun Reynolds and forwards like James Venter, Jo-Hanko de Villiers, Len Massyn, Rhyno Herbst, Pieter Jansen, Chegrin Fillies and the standout loose-forward Hacjivah Dayimani. These men all picked up valuable experience in the Currie Cup and will add to the options available to head coach Swys de Bruin in Super Rugby next year.
Factor in the Lions were without, or had limited use of, the likes of Andries Cotzee, Ruan Combrinck, Harold Vorster, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Lionel Mapoe, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Warren Whiteley, Kwagga Smith, Lourens Erasmus, Andries Ferreira, Franco Mostert, Malcolm Marx, Robbie Coetzee and Dylan Smith; and you realise the Lions will still be a force in 2019 - and making the semi-finals wasn’t a bad effort.
Thank you to the Lions fans for your support this season!— Xerox Golden Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) October 20, 2018
We can't wait to have you back at Emirates Airline Park in 2019.
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Van Rooyen - the regular strength and conditioning coach in Super Rugby - would have also gained new knowledge and experience as team leader during the Currie Cup which he will take forward to next year to strengthen an already formidable and proven coaching team, headed by De Bruin.
“It hurts now (losing the semi-final), but for the union this has been a massive step forward this season,” said Van Rooyen. “Over the course of the season we used between 11 and 13 under-21 players, so while the result is disappointing, we’ve taken a big step forward.”
The Lions will now have time off before getting together again towards the end of November to start preparations for Super Rugby.