JOHANNESBURG - Two of the Lions’ most senior players – Ross Cronje and Courtnall Skosan – have pledged their future to the Joburg franchise, and at the same time stated Super Rugby is still the best inter-provincial rugby competition in the world.
This after several Lions players announced recently they will leave the Joburg-based team after this year’s Super Rugby competition to further their careers in Europe, while there have also been calls from several quarters for the South African franchises to leave Sanzaar and join a European competition, like the Cheetahs and Kings have done by becoming partners in the Pro14 competition.
The Lions, runners-up in 2016 and 2017 and South Africa’s best hope of again winning the Super Rugby competition this year, are set to lose Jaco Kriel, Ruan Dreyer, Jacques van Rooyen, Franco Mostert, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Andries Coetzee in the off-season, while Elton Jantjies and Lionel Mapoe are also believed to be on the shopping lists of several European teams. Faf de Klerk, Ruan Ackermann and Jaco van der Walt left the franchise last season.
But on the eve of the Lions’ last league match of the Super Rugby campaign – against the Bulls at Ellis Park at 3pm on Saturday – Cronje and Skosan said they would continue to play for the Lions in an attempt to win the Super Rugby title, and in an effort to win back their places in the Springbok team. Both men lost out on Bok selection earlier this year, but both men were also among those on the injured list.
“There’s definitely a big motivation to get back there,” said scrumhalf Cronje about his Bok ambitions. “I want to play at the top level, against best ... that’s always the motivation, but I can only control what I can.”
And that means getting regular game time for the Lions – and not moving abroad. “I’m not going overseas. In fact, I’ve signed here for another two years. I love it here ... there’s the bush, the beaches are an hour’s flight away, the sun is out all day every day.
“But I understand why some guys are going. Your career is only so long and you have to make the most of it. You have to think about your family one day, your future ... going overseas sets you up for life after rugby, but if you’re smart you can do the same here.
“But, if you have a dream of playing at the World Cup, playing at the highest level, then you want to be here. I want to play Super Rugby. It’s one of the hardest competitions in the world and I believe it only improves your game.”
Skosan, who lost his place in the Bok team to Lions team-mate Aphiwe Dyantyi this season, also said he was still very happy in Joburg and running out for the Lions. “I’m enjoying myself here ... and will be in the Lions jersey next season. I love Super Rugby. Every weekend you’re challenged by one of the best teams in the world. It’s an amazing competition. I’ve enjoyed everything about it, so in my experience it’s been amazing.”
Both Cronje and Skosan, who’ve watched a fair deal of their team from the sidelines this season, both feel the Lions are ready to hit top form at this business end of the competition. A win against the Bulls on Saturday will guarantee the team a place at home in the quarter-finals.
“We’ve definitely not put an 80-minute performance together yet like I know we can,” said Skosan. “But we’re hitting our stride now, and hopefully we get into that next gear now and move forward.”
Cronje added: “I think we’re going to be peaking at the right time (going into this stage of the competition). I still don’t think we’ve clicked 100% this year, but I’m hoping it will happen now leading in to the playoffs.”