JOHNNESBURG – If the Lions can repeat the successes they’ve achieved in Australasia in recent years, they’ll return to South Africa in a month’s time in pole position to again be a contender for the Super Rugby title.
Swys de Bruin’s men depart for a gruelling four-week stop in Australia and New Zealand tomorrow confident of another good tour - something they have enjoyed doing in recent years.
Under former coach Johan Ackermann, the Lions embraced the challenges of being away from home for long periods, opting to focus on building what they call their “brotherhood” rather than the demands of being on the road - and air. The philosophy has brought them positive results on the field, and De Bruin and Co will be hoping for similar positivity over the ¬coming month.
In 2015, the Lions beat the Blues (13-10), Rebels (20-16) and Reds (18-17) on tour, with just the one loss, to the Crusaders (34-6). The following year - the first time the Lions managed to go all the way to the final - they beat the Chiefs in Hamilton (36-32), and then lost to the Highlanders (34-15), while last season they made it a three-out-of-three trip.
They beat the Rebels (47-10), Force (24-15) and the Brumbies (13-6), but didn’t face a New Zealand team. This year will be different, and far more challenging.
They start their tour against the Waratahs in Sydney on Friday. The Australian side is enjoying a good time of it this year, with five wins from seven matches, which has them in third place on the overall points table.
Then it’s the Reds in Brisbane; possibly the easiest game on tour, with the hosts three from seven so far and down in 12th place, before the Lions head to New Zealand.
The Hurricanes will host De Bruin’s men on Saturday, May 5; the 2016 champions currently sit in first place with a record of six wins from seven, and they’re followed by a clash against the Highlanders, who’re seventh at the moment with a record of four wins from six.
The Lions are currently second in the overall standings, having won five from eight, the defeats coming against the Blues, Jaguares and Crusaders.
A good tour will be crucial for the Lions’ chances of getting into the play-off positions, and at home, because they finish their round-robin fixtures with three tough derbies against the Stormers (away), Sharks (away) and Bulls (home). The remaining fixture before the play-offs will be against the Brumbies.
The Lions look to be in for a tough second half of the competition, but the good news is they will welcome back several star players who’ve been sidelined of late.
Already, wing Ruan Combrinck is back in the selection mix, having played against the Stormers last weekend, while De Bruin is expected to include inspirational leader Warren Whiteley, Ross Cronje, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Aphiwe Dyantyi in his tour group - set to be named today.
New scrum-half recruit Nic Groom, having joined recently from Northampton in England, is also likely to tour and add depth to the scrum-half position, while wing Courtnall Skosan is expected to return to action when the team returns from Australasia.
The Lions' tour fixtures are:
Friday: Waratahs (11.45am)
April 28: Reds (7.05am)
May 5: Hurricanes (9.35am)
May 12: Highlanders (9.35am)