– On the surface, it looks to be the dawn of a new era for the Lions as they
plot the way forward in Super Rugby.
Having finished as runners-ups
for two straight years in 2016 and 2017, the Johannesburgers have since said
goodbye to their coach and mentor Johan Ackermann.
A man who commanded respect from
his players and peers, Ackermann transformed the once embattled Lions into the
best Super Rugby side in the country.
Under Ackermann, the Lions went
from Super Rugby whipping boys to a side that oozed attacking enterprise and
produced some of the most attractive rugby in the competition.
With Ackermann now settling into
his role at Gloucester, the Lions reins have been given to Swys de Bruin, who
makes the step up from assistant coach to head coach.
Whenever a new coach comes in,
the expectation is that he will put his own footprint on the side. But De
Bruin, who was Ackermann’s right-hand man throughout the metamorphosis of the
Lions, is not looking to do anything of the sort.
Instead, he is looking to build
on the work done under Ackermann.
“I don’t see it as a new
cycle whatsoever,” he told Sport24.
“I was here for five years
with Ackers and so was the rest of our staff. Apart from the three young coaches
that joined us (this season), it’s exactly the same group of players.
“We lost Faf (De Klerk). He
was a good player but never really a senior player and nor was Ruan Ackerman or
Akker van der Merwe.
“Those are the three players
we lost but the rest are all still here. All our Boks are still here and we’ve
got a very good senior base of players.”
Having pioneered an attacking
style that the other South African sides have tried with little success to
emulate over the past two seasons, De Bruin is expecting the Lions to be given
stiffer competition from the Sharks, Stormers and Bulls this season.
Having done almost everything
right over the past two years without the ultimate reward, the Lions must now
find a way to go one better and become the first South African side to win a
Super Rugby title since the Bulls in 2010.
“That’s the question, the
big thing and the discussion we’ve been having with our senior players and
Jannie Putter, our mental coach,” De Bruin said.
“Those are the small margins
we’ve got to get right now and that’s what we’re working on.
“In saying that, we’re going
to do the same as the last two years and we are definitely still process
driven, even more so than in the past.
“A few things have changed.
The South African teams are much stronger and the competition is more strength
versus strength. We’ve got some targets on our backs. Guys are coming for us
now when they didn’t in the past. That’s a new challenge.”
The Lions have added Niel de
Bruin as their kicking and skills coach, Joey Mongalo as their backline coach
and Philip Lemmer as their defence specialist.
All of those new additions come
from existing Lions structures, and that all lends itself towards the
consistency that De Bruin is looking to breed at the union.
“There is definitely
continuity. If I arrived here new, then it would have been the start of a new
system, but it’s not,” he said.
The Lions play their first match
of the season on Saturday when they host the sharks at Ellis Park. Kick-off is