JOHANNESBURG - As the Lions enjoy a bye week to reflect on an up-and-down season, coach Swys de Bruin has admitted to having to deal with a number of “interesting” challenges over the course of 2018.
While they are still top of the Super Rugby SA conference log and are on course to host a “quarter-final” - something they did in both 2016 and 2017 when they reached the final - their fate is not in their hands. That alone is something they didn’t have to deal with in the last two years as they qualified comfortably as conference winners, but more pressing this season has been the regular announcements that someone among the senior player group will leave at the end of the Super Rugby competition and head abroad.
Also, De Bruin - who took over from Johan Ackermann - has had to work with a new-look management team that includes rookies like Joey Mongalo and Phillip Lemmer, while De Bruin himself has also had Springbok duties on his mind, having been roped in to serve as attack consultant.
“It’s definitely been a tougher year than in 2016 and 2017,” said De Bruin. “It’s been an interesting year, with lots of challenges ... like all the guys who’ve said they’re leaving.”
De Bruin was referring to the likes of Ruan Dreyer, Franco Mostert, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and possibly also Jacques van Rooyen and Andries Coetzee who may head to Europe. Jaco Kriel also announced a while ago he would join Ackermann at Gloucester, while the futures of Elton Jantjies and Lionel Mapoe are still up in the air.
“It’s been coming for a while. We’ve all been together as a group for six years, and it’s normal that guys will get offers to go play elsewhere. They’re excellent offers, and who wouldn’t want to grab the opportunity,” said De Bruin.
Meet the Emirates Lions squad on Thu 05/07 between 14:00-16:00 at Emirates Airline Park. Bring your merchandise to have signed & take a selfie with your favourite player! The Canterbury Shop will be open until 16:30. Parking will be available in the parkade.#LetsUnite pic.twitter.com/MXLaBl29yV— Emirates Lions (@LionsRugbyCo) July 2, 2018
With one regular season match to go before the playoffs start, the Lions are top of the SA Conference with 41 points thanks to eight wins from 15 matches. Their final game - next weekend - is against the Bulls, at Ellis Park, but they can be caught as conference leaders (and winners) if the Jaguares (38 points from nine wins out of 14 games) beat the Bulls and Sharks in Pretoria and Durban respectively.
Losing top spot would mean the Lions have to play a “quarter-final” away from Ellis Park, but that, said De Bruin, was now out of their hands: “All we can do is focus on the Bulls and make sure we win that one; that will guarantee our place in the playoffs, at least,” said the Lions boss. “But things are not in our hands anymore. If the Jaguares win both their games they’ll end top.”