Our second team we preview for this years Vodacom Super Rugby is last years finalist the Lions.
With the success of 2016 the Lions have allot to proof in 2017 to fans and the expectations of supporters.
It is never easy to repeat successes and the Lions will be a marked team going into the 2017 season of Super Rugby.
The upside for Ackermann and his players are definitely the fact that they will not be facing the New Zealanders in the round phases of the competition this year, but that can also turn against them as it did with the Stormers last season.
Not that one can downplay the Aussies abilities but they are much easier opponents that the New Zealanders in the competition.
The Lions have also the benefit that they did not lose too many players in the offseason and have much of the same players to take on the season.
Here is the Lions Squad for the 2017 Super Rugby season:
Forwards (TBC): Ruan Dreyer, Julian Redelinghuys, Sti Sithole, Dylan Smith, Jacques van Rooyen, Robbie Coetzee, Malcolm Marx, Akker van der Merwe, Robert Kruger, Marvin Orie, Ruan Ackermann, Fabian Booysen, Cyle Brink, Jaco Kriel, Warren Whiteley
Backs (TBC): Faf de Klerk, Dillon Smit, Elton Jantjies, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe, Harold Vorster, Courtnall Skosan, Andries Coetzee, Ruan Combrinck
Players that have moved on from the Lions are as follow:
Ramone Samuels (Stormers), MB Lusaseni (retired), Martin Muller (released), Stephan de Wit (Stormers), Ruaan Lerm (Kings), Marnitz Boshoff (Connacht, Ireland), Sampie Mastriet (released), JW Bell (released).
A few of the star players have now also some international experience with the Springboks behind their name and although 2016 was not a year to remember for the Springboks it is still a world full of experience these players got from the system at the Springboks.
Something Ackermann have got right over the last couple of years was to build a squad of players and not just a first team which is something one cannot have at Super Rugby.
We have said it plenty of times that Super Rugby is a marathon and not a sprint and injuries in a competition like this is part of life and you need to plan for it if you want to succeed.
The schedule looks pretty nice for the Lions this year and I am sure that they have identified were they need to be at what stage of the competition.
Their first game will be against last year’s Currie Cup Champions the Free State Cheetahs who has transformed under Smith coaching in the competition. It will be a great match for supporters and players alike starting the campaign on a high for whoever wins the match
Players to watch:
Sti Sithole was a scholar at Westville Boys’ High School, Sithole was included in the KwaZulu-Natal squad at the Under-16 Grant Khomo Week in 2009.
He then moved to Cape Town to join Western Province. He played for the Western Province U19 side during the 2012 Under-19 Provincial Championship (making thirteen appearances as he helped the team win the competition) and for the Western Province U21 side during the 2013 Under-21 Provincial Championship (once again helping him team win the tournament).
He also played for the UCT Ikey Tigers during the 2013 Varsity Cup competition. His first senior start in domestic rugby came during the 2014 Vodacom Cup competition in April 2014.
In May 2014, Sithole was drafted into the Stormers squad for their 2014 Super Rugby match against the Sharks in Durban.
Sithole is a promising prop which will add much value to the Lions squad and I will be watching him excel in the Lions environment
Akker van der Merwe has been playing understudy to Marx the whole season last year but have not just shown in the Currie Cup and Super Rugby what a great hooker he is but also for the Barbarians last year.
He was definitely all over Marx in the Springboks v Barbarians match and kept that great form throughout the Barbarians end of year tour in Europe.
A nifty hooker that have the heart of a lion and the speed of a cheetah and coach Ackermann will rely heavily on Ackermann from the bench or from a starting position.
Although born in Vanderbijlpark, Van der Merwe grew up in George, where he played rugby for Outeniqua High School to win inclusion in the SWD Eagles Under-16 side for the 2007 Grant Khomo Week and their Under-18 side for the 2008 Academy Week and 2009 Craven Week competitions.
In 2010, he moved to Potchefstroom where he represented the Leopards and university side NWU Pukke.
He was a regular for the Leopards U19 side during the 2010 Under-19 Provincial Championship competition, making thirteen appearances and in 2012, he made twelve appearances for the Leopards U21 side in the 2012 Under-21 Provincial Championship, scoring six tries.
He played Varsity Cup rugby for the NWU Pukke in 2013 and 2014.
In April 2014, Van der Merwe was a surprise inclusion in the Lions touring squad for their Australian leg of the 2014 Super Rugby season.
He made his Super Rugby debut against the Chiefs in Hamilton and scored his first try for the Lions in their next match against the Highlanders in Dunedin.
After one more match that he played off the bench (against the Waratahs in Sydney),he made his first Super Rugby start in their final tour match against the Force in Perth.
On 4 April 2015, he scored a last-minute winning in their 2015 Super Rugby season match against the Bulls to help the Lions win the match 22–18 against their trans-Jukskei rivals.
Rohan Janse van Rensburg is a name that many South African wants to see as a permanent fixtures when a Springbok squad are announced.
He was by far the best midfielder in South Africa last year and scored some amazing tries with the Lions. His only criticism comes from his defense and his defensive game but that is something that is easily fixable.
His ability to break the line and create opportunities was fantastic last year and he was able to finish some of those opportunities off himself as well.
Rohan represented the Blue Bulls at the 2007 Under-13 Craven Week, the 2010 Under-16 Grant Khomo Week and the 2011 and 2012 editions of the Under-18 Craven Week tournaments.
He was also called into the South African Schools squad in 2012.
His senior debut for the Blue Bulls came in the 2013 Vodacom Cup competition, when he came on as a substitute in the match against the Pumas. He then started five of their remaining six matches in this competition.
He moved to Johannesburg for the 2015 to join the Golden Lions. The 2016 Super Rugby season was the breakthrough for Janse van Rensburg.
At inside centre,he had a very successful partnership with fellow centre, Springbok Lionel Mapoe.
Janse van Rensburg managed to score 10 tries in 17 games; which is very prolific for a number 12.
His combination with Mapoe just worked last year and they will want to build on that and get even better as both of them formed part of Coetzee Springbok plans.
There is now reason why the Lions cannot go all the way this season and supporters alike will expect that from the men from Johannesburg.
They have quality in coaching and in their squad and need to proof that this was not just a flook last year. I would predict the Lions to be in the play-off ate last but should be in that final again this year hopefully this time in South Africa.
2017 Lions Super Rugby fixtures:
Saturday, February 25: Cheetahs v Lions (Bloemfontein, 15:05)
Saturday, March 4: Lions v Waratahs (Ellis Park, 15:05)
Saturday, March 11: Jaguares v Lions (Buenos Aires, 23:40)
Saturday, March 18: Lions v Reds (Ellis Park, 17:15)
Saturday, March 25: Kings v Lions (Port Elizabeth, 15:05)
Saturday, April 1: Lions v Sharks (Ellis Park, 17:15)
Saturday, April 15: Stormers v Lions (Cape Town, 17:15)
Friday, April 21: Lions v Jaguares (Ellis Park, 20:00)
Saturday, April 29: Force v Lions (Perth, 13:55)
Saturday, May 6: Rebels v Lions (Melbourne, 07:00)
Friday, May 12: Brumbies v Lions (Canberra, 11:45)
Saturday, May 20: Lions v Bulls (Ellis Park, 17:15)
Sunday, May 28: Lions v Kings (Ellis Park, 14:30)
Saturday, July 1: Lions v Sunwolves (Ellis Park 14:30)
Saturday, July 15: Sharks v Lions (Durban, 17:15)
Super Rugby Qualifiers:
Friday, July 21
Friday, July 21
Saturday, July 22
Saturday, July 22
Super Rugby semi-finals:
Friday, July 28
Saturday, July 29
Super Rugby final:
Saturday, August 5