JOHANNESBURG - “Nothing new, just better.”
That is the secret behind the Lions’ continued dominance of the South African teams in this year’s Super Rugby competition ... and the reason they are on course to again be a factor when talk turns to teams good enough to be title contenders.
While the likes of the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers are still trying to find the recipe that works for them, the Lions are already trying to perfect it.
Swys de Bruin’s team may still have to face the Stormers this season, but already they have powered past the Sharks and Bulls, among the local sides, to extend to 19 matches since they were last beaten in Super Rugby by a South African team.
Saturday’s victory at Loftus against the Bulls showed again just how far ahead of the local pack the Lions are - and that despite having an overhaul of coaches in the off-season, with De Bruin taking charge and rookie junior men Joey Mongalo, Philip Lemmer and Neil de Briun stepping up to the big ranks.
The last time the Lions lost to local opposition was on May 2, 2015 - a 33-35 defeat to the Bulls at Loftus. Since then they have won 18, with the one draw, against the Stormers at Newlands on June 6, 2015.
Young Neil de Bruin, who is the Lions’ new backline coach and specialist skills and kicking coach, is one of the new men involved this year. He, like Mongalo and Lemmer, was promoted from the Lions’ junior structures.
“The mindset going into this year was ‘nothing new, just better’,” said De Bruin when quizzed about the goals for the season. “All we’ve looked to do is build on what the team did last year and the years before that.
“The right word to use is evolving ... we want to keep growing. We’ve started well this year and are on the right track, but we’re far from perfect. If we can keep improving and being a better team than the week before then we’re doing well. It’s a long season still ahead of us, and it’s going to be crucial to peak at the right time.”
News: #SuperRugby early days but these are the teams sitting in finals positions after 3 weeks. runners-up in 2016/2017 @LionsRugbyCo are three from three, while @MelbourneRebels and @crusadersrugby are two from two...
Full conference tables: https://t.co/zS3j5hxJi7 pic.twitter.com/oiapMZGXUl
One of the standout players in the three wins so far this year has been wing Sylvian Mahuza, a player who has found it difficult to stay in the starting team in recent seasons, mainly because of the exploits of Springboks Ruan Combrinck and Courtnall Skosan.
He, too, believes the Lions’ decision to stick to the same plans that worked for them when Johan Ackermann was in charge is the reason why they’re again playing attractive, winning rugby.
“I’ve been here at the Lions for four seasons now and nothing much has changed in the approach to the game. There are obviously a few slight adjustments that have been made because of the new coaches coming in ... Joey, Neil and Philip, who’re new in the system, but their approach is the same as what we were used to last year.
“And, coach Swys has been here all along ... and he’s always been the attack coach. We miss coach Ackies; he’s a different guy, an amazing human being, but coach Swys is also different and amazing in other ways.
“We’ve always wanted to play an attacking game and that hasn’t changed. We might have changed a few coaches, but we’re still the same Lions.” Indeed.
This weekend the Lions host the Blues from Auckland.