JOHANNESBURG - Having enjoyed a few weeks break after the Currie Cup campaign, the Lions are back in training ahead of next year’s Super Rugby challenge where they will be looking to make it three finals in a row - and hopefully bag the title this time.
It’s very much the early stages of pre-season the Lions are in and while new head coach Swys de Bruin is keeping a close watch on proceedings - especially those players who’re playing for the Springboks, in Europe and Japan - his work on the field will only really start in the new year.
“This is not my time this is the time for the trainers and conditioning guys,” said De Bruin this week.
“All we’re really focused on at the moment is getting the guys fit and keeping them in good shape. It’s all about conditioning right now,” said De Bruin.
“Ivan van Rooyen (the conditioning coach) is in charge of things at the moment.”
The Lions will spend the next few weeks together and then break on December 15 for a further few weeks off before returning to the training ground in the new year.
“This is not the time to be thinking too far ahead, not with so many players missing we have 15 first choice players out, who’re either with the Boks, in Japan or Europe.
"This is a young group we’re working with, but that’s also not a bad thing.”
De Bruin was able to build some quality depth during the Currie Cup and many of those players are set to feature in Super Rugby in 2018.
“There are also a lot of U-19 and U-21s training with us, just so they can familiarise themselves with the senior group,” says De Bruin. “But I’m happy with where we are as a squad. Most positions are well covered and there is good depth, so I don’t have too many concerns on that front.
“What will be a challenge is getting all the guys who’re playing elsewhere back into the squad here and on the same page in the new year. And, I have to factor in they’re likely to not be at the same level of conditioning as the guys who’re here now.”
Those based in Japan for the next two months include Elton Jantjies, Lionel Mapoe, Franco Mostert and Warren Whiteley, while Rohan Janse van Rensburg is playing in England until the end of January.
Some of these men, and also Malcolm Marx, Ross Cronje, Ruan Dreyer, Courtnall Skosan and Andries Coetzee, have also been on tour with the Boks and need time off.
The good news though is Whiteley is nearly ready to play again after a lengthy absence due to a groin injury and he’ll be fresh in the new year, while centre Howard Mnisi, who missed the whole of last season because of a knee problem, is also back in training and ready for 2018.
Jaco Kriel, who would have been with the Boks and also headed to Japan had he not been injured, is also set to return for the Lions in Super Rugby. Ruan Combrinck, also currently injured, may be back in the early rounds in late February.
Even without the now departed Ruan Ackermann and Faf de Klerk, the Lions look to be a strong and formidable unit going into the new year - and are probably still going to be South Africa’s best bet for the Super Rugby title come August next year.