Johannesburg - Lions captain Josh Strauss believes his team have grown since last year's abysmal Super Rugby season, and they have the Currie Cup title to show for it.
The Johannesburg side face the Cheetahs in their Super Rugby opener at Coca-Cola Park on Saturday.
"I think last year in Super Rugby, we were a very young group, very inexperienced and there were a few players who played their first Super Rugby game last year," Strauss said on Wednesday.
"It really shows that we have grown up as a group and I think we addressed the things in Super Rugby that we had missed out."
Coach John Mitchell, meanwhile, said his charges were ready to tackle the new season after lifting the 2011 Currie Cup.
Mitchell said last year's disappointing run in Super Rugby, when they managed only three wins from 14 matches, was part of their growth as a team.
The squad would start this season on a new page and they had put last year's Super Rugby competition behind them.
"We are excited about the season and I would be surprised if we are not hungry to perform," he said.
"That (Currie Cup) was part of our maturity and growth, we've deserved where we finished up so I would like to think of going into this campaign with more maturity."
Mitchell felt his side brought something different to the competition in terms of the way they approached the game which could count in their advantage.
"I think our style of rugby is quite refreshing compared to some of our other competitors in the conference. It is unique to us and we have the opportunity to take that to the Super Rugby," Mitchell said.
"We will fight as hard as we can to win our conference."
Mitchell was still sweating on the availability of lock Wikus van Heerden, who was nursing a knee injury, when he named his team for the Cheetahs clash.
Hendrik Roodt was pencilled in among the starting XV, and if Van Heerden failed to recover in time, Mitchell said he would make his debut for the Lions.
Hooker Callie Visagie, prop CJ van der Linde and reserve scrumhalfTian Meyer are set to make their debuts for the Johannesburg franchise, while scrumhalf Michael Bondesio, who was part of the match squad last year, would also receive his first starting berth.
Stephan Greeff, named in the match 22, was set to play his first game for the Lions off the bench.
Lions: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Doppies le Grange, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 James Kamana, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Joshua Strauss (captain), 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Wikus van Heerden/ Hendrik Roodt, 3 Patric Cilliers, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Substitutes: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Jacobie Adriaanse/ CJ van der Linde, 18 Hendrik Roodt / Stephan Greeff, 19 Warren Whiteley, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Butch James, 22 Lionel Mapoe.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Dusty Noble, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Rocco Jansen, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Davon Raubenheimer, 7 Lappies Labuschagné/Philip van der Walt, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane
Substitutes: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Lourens Adriaanse, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Pieter van Zyl, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Willie le Roux.