JOHANNESBURG – After finishing ninth out of 15 teams and failing to make the Super Rugby play-offs this season the Lions will be doing plenty of introspection in the coming weeks.
Questions are being asked about their coaching team, which players are staying and which are going, and who’ll be in charge next year?
Rugby writer Jacques van der Westhuyzen highlights the key areas in the spotlight right now.
The coaching team
The good news for the Lions is that head coach Swys de Bruin has signed to coach the team in 2020 and 2021. It means there will be stability at the very top, but there will be some concerns after De Bruin left his team in New Zealand earlier this year to return home because of stress. Most of his assistants, among them backline specialist Neil de Bruin, forwards coach Philip Lemmer, and scrum boss Julian Redelinghuys, will also still be around next year.
What the future holds for defence coach Joey Mongalo though is uncertain. He is still battling his conviction for indecent assault in Australia, from an incident that happened while the Lions were on tour last year. For the most part though, the Lions will go into the 2020 campaign a settled coaching unit.
The player group
The good news is the Lions are not expecting to lose too many senior players. They’ll be desperate though to hang onto tighthead prop Carlu Sadie, who was loaned from the Stormers this season, and find an experienced lock to partner Marvin Orie next year, because the loan player from the Sharks, Stephan Lewies, is on his way to England.
Also, with hooker Malcolm Marx, headed to Japan for the first six months next year, the Lions will be keen to find an experienced No 2 to help guide Jan-Henning Campher in 2020.
The biggest issue right now though for Lions CEO Rudolf Straeuli is whether to hand Elton Jantjies another deal or let him go? And, does Jantjies want to stay in Joburg? It is something needs to be sorted out quickly.
It is interesting to note that three of the Lions’ most senior and experienced leaders all have some questions marks about their futures in Joburg. Marx, who captained the team regularly in 2019, won’t be available next year as he’ll be playing club rugby in Japan, while occasional skipper Kwagga Smith’s continued involvement with the Lions has been a hot topic for some time. It has been rumoured he may return to Sevens in the near future.
And then there is Warren Whiteley. He played only four games in the last campaign because of injuries and one wonders where he will be in February next year - among the playing group, part of the coaching team, or overseas in England, France or Japan? Or will he be on his way back from injury? Fortunately the Lions have other “leaders” in Jantjies, Orie, Lionel Mapoe, Ross Cronje.
The Lions were adamant throughout the recent campaign that they tried new things on the playing field. They said they tweaked their style of rugby, and also trialled and tested new players, and they’d be right, and they’ll hope that in 2020 those rookies come good and deliver. Already some of them have crept into the hearts of the fans, men like Sadie, Vincent Tshituka, Gianni Lombard, Wandisile Simelane and Tyrone Green.
The Lions now have to back these men going forward; let them play in the Currie Cup and pick them again next year. There are others, like Campher, Nathan McBeth, Ruan Vermaak, Rhyno Herbst, Hacjivah Dayimani, Reinhard Nothnagel and Manny Rass.
These men are the future of Lions rugby so while 2019 wasn’t a year to write home about, there’s still plenty to be optimistic about.@jacq_west