JOHANNESBURG - With so many first-choice players missing, and being very much on the back foot in the standings, the chances of the Lions going all the way in this year’s Currie Cup are pretty slim. But, that seems to be okay, according to new head coach Swys de Bruin.
The focus in the coming weeks and months will be more on building the team’s depth and getting all the youngsters on the same page so the Lions are again in a strong position to push for Super Rugby glory next season.
It’s understandable considering De Bruin’s team were handicapped by starting their Currie Cup campaign when the Super Rugby play-offs were still underway and then they lost several first-choice players to the national team and to Japan, where Lionel Mapoe, Lourens Erasmus and Ruan Combrinck are playing club rugby.
The Springbok players who are missing are Andries Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Jaco Kriel, Franco Mostert, Ruan Dreyer and Malcolm Marx.
On top of that Ruan Ackermann has moved to England and so, too, has Faf de Klerk, while Warren Whiteley is injured and Kwagga Smith suspended.
And, once the Boks’ Rugby Championship campaign is finished, Jantjies, Kriel and Mostert will also head to Japan until February next year.
The Lions started their Currie Cup challenge on July 23, the same weekend as the Super Rugby quarter-finals.
“It’s like we’re in a 400 metres race in the Currie Cup but the other teams started at the 200m mark,” said De Bruin.
“We’ve been on the back foot from the start because we had to play Super Rugby, while the first few rounds were contested.
“There’s nothing we can do about it though it’s the hand we’ve been dealt this season. I’m a realist fortunately and I’m not going to moan about it.
“I have to try and find the positives and that is to focus on getting our processes in place and ensuring we play the Lions’ way.
"It’s not about winning and losing in the coming weeks, but rather building our depth, developing a few younger guys and giving players a chance to show what they can do.”
The Lions have lost four of their five matches in the competition, the latest being a 39-3 hiding by Western Province at Newlands and this week they travel to Bloemfontein to play against the defending champions, the Cheetahs.
“It stays tough because I have to pick some of the senior players I’ve got left, because the rest are all youngsters,” De Bruin explained.
“The problem is the Super Rugby players’ bodies are still sore and tired after going all the way through the play-offs and should really have had more rest.”
Here one thinks about Jacques van Rooyen, who’s now nursing a calf strain, Andries Ferreira, who played virtually every Super Rugby game this year, and Rohan Janse van Rensburg as well as Harold Vorster, both of whom also featured prominently in the play-offs a few weeks ago and have played plenty of rugby up to now.
“We feel let down by the system the overlapping of the competitions and the fact (that) we weren’t able to even have a pre-season ahead of the Currie Cup, with players having had time to rest,” said De Bruin.
“We can’t have this situation next year... the Currie Cup is an important competition and needs to structured properly.”