JOHANNESBURG – There is life after Ruan Dreyer, Jacques van Rooyen, Jaco Kriel, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Franco Mostert for the Lions.
They showed on Saturday night, after their gutsy first-ever win against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires, they have enough quality depth in their ranks to again mount a serious challenge for the Super Rugby title.
Factor in, too, the fact they lost hard-core operators like Ruan Ackermann and Faf de Klerk at the end of the 2017 campaign, and there will be plenty of hope the new-look Lions – even if only in few of the positions – can perhaps make it four finals in a row.
The three-time runners-up between 2016 and 2018 made history on Saturday when they scored three tries to one to beat the Jaguares for the first time in the Argentine capital.
And they did so with a new, 21-year-old prop in Carlu Sadie in the tighthead position, allaying fears the Lions would badly miss Dreyer’s strength and experience this year, while Rhyno Herbst and Marvin Orie stood up to take charge of the Mostert-less second row.
Also, Marnus Schoeman, a fringe Lions player in 2018, stood up in the absence of injured Springbok Kwagga Smith to score three telling tries for his team; his combination with Warren Whiteley and Co being one of the hallmarks of the performance in Buenos Aires.
Hacjivah Dayimani, the blindside flank, is also only in his early 20s.
Lions coach Swys de Bruin was full of praise for the new men in his team, but also for Schoeman, who has scored some crucial tries for the Lions over the last year and a bit.
“The debutants did brilliantly today,” enthused De Bruin after the historic win.
“And that’s one thing we can be really happy and proud about here at the Lions; our youth structures have always been good, and we’re now reaping the benefits at Super Rugby level.
Did you miss the @emirates Lions' midnight encounter with the Jaguares on Saturday? We love this try of @marnusschoeman, but we can't get enough of the scrum which made it possible😍#LionsPride #JAGvLIO pic.twitter.com/sVHCevyD3N— Emirates Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) February 18, 2019
“Several guys stuck up their hands – Marnus scored three tries, and he’s a player who’s always come through for us.
“And then, Carlu (Sadie) scrummed so well. I’m excited about the performance of these guys, but I know it’s only the first game.”
The Lions’ win was built on a strong forwards performance and excellent, gritty defending in tough conditions in Buenos Aires.
“We’re blessed we were able to create some history this weekend,” said De Bruin. “It was tough out there... it was 34 degrees Celcius, there was humidity, and the ball was wet and slippery throughout.
“We knew it was going to be a game where we had to stand up defensively, and I’ve never seen the guys tackle like that before.
“The defence was simply excellent, and that shows the guys were hungry to win, that the mindset of the players was right. There was guts shown out there, and you can’t ask for more than that.”