JOHANNESBURG – The Lions will go into this year’s Currie Cup competition - starting next week - and the 2020 Super Rugby campaign with a new-look squad following the recent departure of several senior campaigners.
The union have especially been hard hit in three key areas where they will have to find replacements very quickly: the midfield, the second-row and at hooker.
The Lions coaching team headed by Swys de Bruin will be somewhat concerned so much experience and talent has been lost in one go. Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster and loan centre from the Bulls, Franco Naude, have all left the Lions in the last few days. Add Rohan Janse van Rensburg, who went abroad last year, and Howard Mnisi, who left after last season, into the equation and you realise the three-time Super Rugby runners up are in deep trouble.
Rookie Wandisile Simelane is an obvious choice to step up at outside centre, having got some game-time this year, but he is young and inexperienced, while Manny Rass has also been talked about as a future Super Rugby player, too. If Elton Jantjies opts to stay at the Lions expect him to feature regularly at No 12 next year, with Gianni Lombard or Shaun Reynolds at 10.
It was just over a year ago that 2016 and 2017 stalwart lock Andries Ferreira quietly ended his relationship with the Lions. Then Franco Mostert left at the end of last year and more recently, without a word being uttered by the Lions, Lourens Erasmus climbed on a plane and headed to Japan.
And the latest man to leave, Stephan Lewies (Harlequins), was only playing at the Lions on a short-term contract. All that’s left then for the coaches to work with ahead of Super Rugby next year is Marvin Orie, who was a star for the Lions this season, but will probably feature for the Boks, and bunch of rising stars who’re no older than 22, among them Reinhard Nothnagel, Rhyno Herbst and Ruan Vermaak.
They all got a chance in Super Rugby this year, but will have to make a big step up in the coming months to lock down a second-row position in the Super Rugby team. The Lions could also do with recruiting a seasoned lock or two.
How the Lions must wish they were able to hang onto now Sharks star Akker van der Merwe and Stormers man Corne Fourie because right now they are in deep trouble when it comes to hooker. Only rookie Jan-Henning Campher is an option with some sort of experience going into this year’s Currie Cup competition and Super Rugby next year.
The former SA Schools, Junior Boks and Bulls star got a taste of Super Rugby this year as the back-up to Malcolm Marx and will now have to grab his chance with both hands.
Marx won’t play for the Lions again for at least the next year as he goes off to the World Cup and then Japan, until June 2020. And to make matters worse, seasoned hooker Robbie Coetzee has also opted to move on and has left the Lions.
At 22 Campher will have to stand up and show what he’s made of. The Lions though are believed to be seriously shopping for a hooker and someone in the Cape could be headed to Joburg soon.@jacq_west