Watched by among others Springbok captain Warren Whiteley – who’s back from his stint in Japan and fit to lead the team in Super Rugby this season – the Lions warmed up for the competition with a convincing 66-22 win against neighbours the Bulls at Ellis Park on Saturday.
While neither side pushed their strongest team into the field, with virtually all the players in action set to feature in the SuperSport Challenge from April, their performance might have indicated their readiness for the competition kickoff on the weekend of February 17.
And the Lions – runners-up in the last two editions – would have got the most out of a match that saw plenty of good attacking rugby. The handling by both sides was impressive for a first hit-out of the year and the offloading was just as good, but the Lions showed the most composure, skill and hunger over the 80-odd minutes that were played.
Swys de Bruin’s team also defended well and they seemed to have more gas left at the end than their neighbours from up north. Also, the Lions’ scrum was dominant throughout so the experiment to try specialist loosehead prop Corne Fourie in the No 2 jersey worked a treat and he may well be seen in that role again later in the year.
One must, however, remember that Super Rugby isn’t won in the pre-season, and certainly not with the players who ran out on Saturday.
For many individuals though it was a hit-out that would have done wonders for the confidence ahead of the competition getting underway, especially for the Lions players.
Let’s not forget the Bulls’ Super Rugby squad has already been finalised so there was not much on the line for John Mitchell’s men on Saturday, but that was not the case for the Lions, whose squad will only be confirmed in the coming days.
Wingers Aphiwe Dyantyi and Madosh Tambwe looked ready for the step up to Super Rugby in place of the injured Ruan Combrinck and Courtnall Skosan, while centre Howard Mnisi also stood out on his return after missing out through injury last year. Young No 10 Shaun Reynolds enjoyed a good outing, too, as did the two scrumhalves Marco Janse van Vuuren and Tian Meyer.
Up front former Pumas flank Marnus Schoeman, who can also play at hooker, showed he will be a good addition to the Lions squad in the coming weeks.
None of the Lions’ regulars, like Andries Coetzee, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Harold Vorster, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronje, Franco Mostert, Andries Ferreira and Malcolm Marx were considered for the outing, with De Bruin opting to keep them fresh for the team’s opener against the Sharks.
Also, many of these players are only expected back in Joburg this coming week after wrapping up their commitments in Europe and Japan.
For the record, the Lions scored 10 tries through Willie Engelbrecht, Marvin Orie, Manny Rass, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Jo-Hanco de Villiers, Gianni Lombard, Tambwe, Tian Meyer, Louis van der Schyff and Reynolds.
The Bulls’ tries were scored Ginter Smuts, Dries Swanepoel, Irvin Alie and Rickert Korff.