JOHANNESBURG - They may have suffered a few unexpected defeats before reaching the halfway point of their 2018 Super Rugby campaign, but the Lions are still well-placed to feature in the play-offs later in the competition.
Swys de Bruin’s team enjoy their first bye this week, appropriately after playing eight games out of their scheduled 16 round-robin fixtures, and they’ll be fairly satisfied with their work up to now.
They’re well out in front in the South African conference with 25 points - also the most points overall - from five wins in eight outings, with the Sharks next best with 14, followed by the Stormers (13), Bulls (9) and Jaguares (8).
Also, the Lions lead the way in number of tries scored, with 43, but defensively they have slipped up, allowing 32 to be scored against them - for the third worst record so far. It needs to be remembered though that the Lions have played eight games, which will have boosted their try tally and tries let in, compared to several teams who’ve only played six or seven games so far.
But, overall, the Lions are in good shape ahead of their Australasian trip, which comes up next week. They will face the Waratahs, Reds, Hurricanes and Highlanders on tour.
“It’s a long tour again, but the guys enjoy touring,” said De Bruin at the weekend. “We’ll only fly out a few days before we face the Waratahs in an attempt to delay the jet lag ... hopefully it sets in only after the game.
“We’ve got several guys involved in the Springbok camp this week, but after that everyone will have a few days off to rest and recover.”
The Lions will fancy their chances in Australia, but the two New Zealand teams they’re up against should prove more challenging. The Lions though have in recent years done well on tour and will back themselves to again pick up plenty of points.
After their return to SA they’ll host the Brumbies before playing the return fixtures against the Sharks and Stormers, both away from home. Then they finish with the return game against the Bulls, at Ellis Park.
Crucial to their chances of finishing high on the overall standings will be the quality of depth in their squad, especially as several players will be involved with the Boks in June, and injuries and fatigue may set in. But this is something De Bruin believes the Lions have addressed well in recent years.
And it’s showed this year already with men like Aphiwe Dyantyi, Madosh Tambwe, Dillon Smit and Marvin Orie all producing excellent rugby in the absence of more seasoned campaigners. And, in most positions there is quality cover.
“We’re truly blessed with the quality of the youth coming through at the union,” said De Bruin after Tambwe’s four-try heroics against the Stormers at the weekend. If you look at our juniors as well, you’ll see we’re developing some bright stars for the future of rugby in South Africa.”
The Lions do, indeed, have some quality depth in all areas. To think that were Ruan Combrinck and Courtnall Skosan fully fit at the start of the year, the likes of Dyantyi and Tambwe would hardly have gotten a chance. And, the latter two men have been among the stars of the competition so far.
The Lions will also welcome back stalwarts such as Warren Whiteley, Ross Cronje and Rohan Janse van Rensburg for the tour Down Under, and maybe also Dyantyi. Added to that, new recruit Nic Groom will join the team this week and probably also go on tour.