JOHANNESBURG - Lions boss Swys de Bruin says there is absolutely no reason to get excited about his team’s pre-season warm-up win against the Bulls at Ellis Park on Saturday.
The Lions had their first hit-out before the 2018 competition kicks off on February 17 and ran in 10 tries to beat the men from Pretoria 66-22. It needs to be remembered though that neither the Lions nor the Bulls pushed their strongest sides into the field on Saturday.
John Mitchell’s first choice Bulls were in action against the Sharks in Polokwane at the same time as the match in Joburg, while the Lions team didn’t include any of the players who played in Japan or Europe in the off-season, or who shone in Super Rugby last year.
“It’s early days ... the Bulls’ first choice players are in Polokwane and we had 19 guys not here,” said De Bruin. “This was more a case of having a look at the depth at the union, and in that regard, it’s looking good.”
Several of the Lions’ tries were scored from deep in their own half, with their handling and offloading in the tackle particularly impressive, suggesting they will again play a ball-in-hand style of rugby, even though Johan Ackermann is no longer in charge.
“I was very happy with the form shown by the players at this time of the year,” said De Bruin, who was Ackermann’s right-hand man for five years before getting the head coach’s role when Ackermann took up a job with Gloucester at the end of last year’s Super Rugby competition. “The skill levels on both teams impressed me, so that was a positive, but it’s early days and it’s vital we don’t get over excited. The fitness level was also amazing; the guys played till the very end.”
For the Lions, retreaded prop Corne Fourie shone at hooker as did Marnus Schoeman, who played flank and at hooker, while at the back the two scrumhalves - Marco Janse van Vuuren and Tian Meyer - showed they are ready for the challenges ahead. Flyhalf Shaun Reynolds impressed too, as did wings Aphiwe Dyantyi and Madosh Tambwe and returning centre Howard Mnisi.
Mnisi missed the whole of last season after hurting his knee in the Lions’ first Super Rugby game in late February, but returned on Saturday and showed he will put plenty of pressure on the Lions’ other centres seeking a starting role this year, namely Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Harold Vorster and Lionel Mapoe.
“A lot of individuals stuck up hands up (today), but like I said, a lot of guys did not play (today). I don’t really want to talk about individuals; I’ll finalise my squad on Monday once all the guys who played in Japan and Europe are back with us and have done their medicals.
“It’s great to see Howard on the field again. I’ve backed him since we has 19 (at Griquas) and I still back him. He’s so talented and inspires the guys around him.”
Another player who inspires men around him is Lions skipper Warren Whiteley, who missed much of last season with a groin injury, but after returning to action in Japan over December and January is ready to again lead the team in this year’s competition. He was a keen observer at Ellis Park on Saturday afternoon and said he was looking forward to the year ahead.
The Lions won’t play again until their opening clash of the competition, against the Sharks at Ellis Park on February 17.