The Lions will want to get back to winning ways later today. Photo: Jeremy Ward/www.photosport.nz
Let’s play some rugby. Let’s focus on what happens between the four white lines.

These were the pleas of several Lions officials over the last week as the team returned to the training ground after a Super Rugby bye last weekend.

The Lions host the NSW Waratahs from Sydney at Ellis Park today (3pm kick-off).

For more than two weeks now, Lions chief executive Rudolf Straeuli has had to field questions about his head coach Swys de Bruin and his defence coach Joey Mongalo as a wave of negativity enveloped the three-time Super Rugby runners-up.

It has been a trying few weeks for the franchise. And besides the issues around De Bruin, who has been receiving help for a stress-related matter, and Mongalo, who is fighting a conviction for indecent assault in Australia, the Lions have had to deal with several of their star players being injured throughout the campaign.

Regular skipper Warren Whiteley, who is a massive cog in the Lions unit, has been in and out, and in and out, and in again this season as injuries have scuppered his competition.

Other key squad members like Dylan Smith, Marvin Orie, Kwagga Smith, Ross Cronjé, Courtnall Skosan and Aphiwe Dyantyi have all had broken campaigns for a variety of reasons.

The result has been that the Lions have battled for consistency in performance in 2019 and with six regular season games to play are in last place in the five-team SA Conference log.

They have managed just a 50 percent win rate so far - five wins from 10 matches. It appears, though, that the Lions’ top brass have spent a good deal of time in the last week or two - while the players were enjoying some time off - working through everything that’s gone on in recent weeks.

De Bruin and Mongalo are back in their jobs and even Whiteley has returned to action quicker than expected after his latest setback.

It is no wonder, then, that the Lions are hoping for a quality showing in their first game back after the difficult trip to Australasia last month.

De Bruin said this week he was “excited” to see what the team would produce and it can only be hoped South Africa’s form team of recent years find their range and put together a performance the fans have been desperate to see all season.

The Lions owe themselves and their fans a proper 80-minute effort after going down to the Bulls and Sharks earlier at home this season and only just scraping past the Rebels and Jaguares.

It is now time, as Straeuli said in the week, that the focus again shifted to rugby in Lions country, and while he’d be right, it will only happen if the players produce the goods on the field.

The Waratahs, who last played at Ellis Park in last year’s semi-final, will be a stern test, but it is a game De Bruin’s team should always win on home soil.

Teams

Lions: Andries Coetzee, Courtnall Skosan, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Aphiwe Dyantyi, Elton Jantjies, Ross Cronjé, Warren Whiteley (capt), Vincent Tshituka, Kwagga Smith, Marvin Orie, Stephan Lewies, Carlu Sadie, Malcolm Marx, Sti Sithole

Replacements: Jan-Henning Campher, Dylan Smith, Johannes Jonker, Wilhelm van der Sluys, Marnus Schoeman, Nic Groom, Shaun Reynolds, Tyrone Green

Waratahs: Kurtley Beale, Alex Newsome, Lalakai Foketi, Karmichael Hunt, Curtis Rona, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Michael Wells, Michael Hooper (capt), Ned Hanigan, Rob Simmons, Tom Staniforth, Sekope Kepu, Damien Fitzpatrick, Harry Johnson-Holmes

Replacements: Andrew Tuala, Tom Robertson, Chris Talakai, Hugh Sinclair, Will Miller, Jake Gordon, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Cam Clarke

@jacq_west


Saturday Star

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