JOHANNESBURG - Nic Groom may not know many of his new Lions teammates but that will get sorted out in the 11-odd hours spent on the flight to Sydney in Australia next Tuesday.
Groom arrived in Joburg from Northampton in England last Thursday, but was too late to take part in any training sessions before the Lions’ Super Rugby match against the Stormers - his former team - last Saturday.
He watched the game from the Ellis Park stands, and with the team having a bye this week and being given time off, the 28-year-old has yet to really bond with his new mates.
“Normally you’ll arrive at your first training session and get stuck in, meet the guys, and go from there, but it’s been a bit different this time,” said Groom on Thursday. “I got in last Thursday and everyone’s been off this week, so it’s a waiting game for me to train with the guys, but I’m excited to be here.”
The former Western Province and Stormers man has signed to play for the Lions until October next year and is in line to be named in the squad for the four-match tour of Australia and New Zealand this month.
The team leave for Sydney keen to do well and put themselves in line for yet another final appearance where they will hopefully rid themselves of the bridesmaids tag they've had in the last two seasons.
“I’ve done all the passport stuff, after having put in a motivation (with Northampton) to come here earlier than the end of the season, so I’m hoping to go on tour, but nothing is cast in stone.”
Groom has been recruited to add depth to the Lions’ scrumhalf options, with the only seasoned operator being Ross Cronje, but the Springbok No 9 has battled with rib and knee problems of late. The other No 9s in the group are Dillon Smit and Marco Jansen van Vuren.
The nugget scrumhalf, who grew up in Cape Town and played for the Ikeys in the Varsity Cup before graduating into the Western Province and Stormers sides, said he couldn’t quite believe he will don the red and white of the Lions for the next two years.
“I never thought I’d turn out for the Lions, that’s for sure. But at 28 I’m at the stage of my career where this is a great opportunity," Groom said.
"The Lions play the kind of rugby I like, similar to what UCT played when I was there, and those were some of my fondest rugby memories ... they’ve got the same mindset when it comes to type of rugby.
“I really just want to come in and play my part, add value where I can. I want to contribute in whatever way I can ... make what is working for the Lions work even better.”
Groom played one game for the SA “A” team a few seasons ago and is still hopeful of taking it a step further and turning out for the Boks one day, and he will have as good a chance as anyone else right now with few local men really sticking up their hands for the No 9 jersey. But, he said, that’s the furthest thing on his mind at the moment.
“My only priority is to play well for the Lions. I’m in a good place personally and feel my time playing in England has made me a better player ... experience and playing in different conditions will do that, but I’m only concerned with contributing here now.”
If he manages that, and helps the Lions to a few victories, he’ll have many more friends than just those men he’s due to meet on the flight out next week.
Lions head coach Swys de Bruin will finalise his tour squad over the weekend. The team’s overseas fixtures are against the Waratahs, Reds, Highlanders and Hurricanes.