The Golden Lions Rugby Union was thrilled to officially launch the much anticipated Lions Challenge series in Johannesburg on Thursday afternoon.
The new tournament will see the MTN Lions take on a total of sixteen teams between January and July this year.
Opposition teams include international outfits such as Russia, Samoa and Namibia, local sides the Bulls, Sharks, Cheetahs and Stormers and French teams such as Montpellier, Mont de Marsan, Grenoble and Agen. Matches will also be played against the French Barbarians and American opposition in the form of the North American All Stars.
The matches will offer the MTN Lions sufficient preparation ahead of the Super Rugby promotion/relegation playoffs in July and August.
GLRU President Kevin de Klerk emphasised the importance of the tournament as a motivating factor for the players, coaches and management staff following the MTN Lions’ exclusion from Super Rugby.
“Our absolute philosophy was to keep going and come together as an outfit to ensure that we as a Union – staff and players – had something to work with, and for, in place of Super Rugby,” explained De Klerk.
“We are excited to see our hard work come to life when the tournament gets under way next week.”
New GLRU CEO Manie Booysen also expressed his enthusiasm surrounding the new tournament and believes the competition will offer South Africans a unique and innovative product that will enrich the South African rugby landscape.
“South African rugby is ready for a new project like the Lions Challenge and I am unbelievably excited about this vision that the GLRU has been able to turn into a reality,” he said.
“The matches ahead will see the MTN Lions come up against quality opposition and we believe that the public, not only in Johannesburg but across the country, will enjoy watching the fresh and exciting rugby that will be on offer.”
Meanwhile, MTN Lions Head Coach Johan Ackermann believes the tournament will offer a special challenge for his charges.
“We are really looking forward to the challenge ahead as it is not only a new venture for us as a team but it will allow our players to test themselves against opposition of different levels,” Ackermann explained.
“We are approaching the Lions Challenge as we would any other tournament and we are looking forward to performing and doing our supporters proud while strengthening our brand.”
MTN Lions title sponsor, MTN South Africa, threw their weight behind the Lions Challenge and wished the MTN Lions well ahead of the new tournament.
“As title sponsor of the MTN Lions, we would like to wish the team everything of the best as they compete in the Lions Challenge, as part of their efforts to return to Super Rugby in 2014,” said MTN South Africa General Manager, Ryan Gould.
“This maiden tournament promises to provide the MTN Lions players and technical staff with an opportunity to remain sharp and competitive ahead of a demanding schedule of matches in 2013.”
To download a full list of the Lions fixtures for 2013, click here