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    Super Rugby preview: Lions

    2017-02-20 10:16

    Cape Town - The Lions came so close to winning Super Rugby in 2016 - that decision to rest their first-choice team in the final group game of the season against the Jaguares proving crucial. 

    They lost that match in Buenos Aires and, as a result, missed out on top place on the overall log and a home final. 

    Instead, they traveled to Wellington where they lost 20-3 to the Hurricanes. 

    Still, it was a stellar season from Johan Ackermann's team and they will desperately want to give it another go in 2017. 

    The draw for the Lions is actually easier this year given that they avoid the Kiwi sides in regular season. 

    That should technically make for an easier route to the play-offs but the Lions do have to contest with the Sharks and Jaguares in their conference. 

    There is a slight concern that the Lions peaked in 2016 and that they will struggle to replicate that form in 2017, but their personnel is largely unchanged and they will be backing themselves to be South Africa's premier side once more.  

    KEY PLAYER

    2016 was a team effort in every sense, so this is difficult to do. Elton Jantjies at flyhalf remains instrumental purely because he is the one who launches so many of the Lions attacks, but the likes of Faf de Klerk, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Lionel Mapoe have all played key roles. In the pack, captain Warren Whiteley is the heartbeat of this Lions machine.  

    MAJOR SIGNING

    Not a whole lot to talk about here. The Lions have opted for continuity. Lock Marvin Orie joins from the Bulls, but that's about it. 

    MAJOR LOSS

    Warwick Tecklenburg was one of the most under-rated players in last year's successful Lions side. He didn't get a lot of the limelight, but he got through some serious workloads throughout the season. His sudden retirement took the South African rugby community by surprise and now the Lions find a replacement for him in the No 7 jersey.   

    FIXTURES

    February 25: Cheetahs (a)
    March 4: Waratahs (h)
    March 11: Jaguares (a)
    March 18: Reds (h)
    March 25: Kings (a)
    April 1: Sharks (h)
    April 8: BYE
    April 15: Stormers (a)
    April 21: Jaguares (h)
    April 29: Force (a)
    May 6: Rebels (a)
    May 12: Brumbies (a)
    May 20: Bulls (h)
    May 28: Kings (h)
    INTERNATIONAL BREAK
    July 1: Sunwolves (h)
    July 8: BYE
    July 15: Sharks (a)

    SPORT24 PREDICTION

    There is still a lot of quality in this Lions side, but we reckon the Sharks will give them a run for their money in 2017. 

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