- The Lions, South Africa's pride
and joy in Super Rugby over the past few years, must start fresh when they host
the Sharks in 2018's tournament
opener at Ellis Park on Saturday.
As returning skipper Warren
Whiteley said on Thursday: "We have achieved nothing yet."
The Lions have finished as
runners-up in the last two tournaments and have been head and shoulders above
the rest of the South African charge, but with a new man at the helm that doesn’t
count for much right now.
Swys de Bruin replaces Johan
Ackermann as head coach, and he suggested to Sport24 this week
that he would not be making major changes to the way the Lions go about their
While they have lost a couple of
players - Ruan Ackermann, Faf de Klerk and Akker van der Merwe - the
Lions still have a very familiar feel about them this season.
De Bruin, who was Ackermann's right-hand
man for five years, is understandably reluctant to tinker too much with what
has been a highly successful team culture and philosophy.
Whiteley, though, acknowledges
that there needs to be some element of change if the Lions are to remain title
"We have a new coaching
staff and we have lost a couple of players, but our systems are pretty much the
same with tweaks here and there," he said.
"We’re not trying to
reinvent the wheel, but we know we can’t stay the same.
"We can’t be the same team
as last year if we want to keep improving in this competition, because the
competition keeps evolving and other teams keep improving. We have to be in
search of that extra 1%."
De Bruin spoke about the other
South African sides all having improved in the off-season, and the Stormers,
Sharks and Bulls might be sniffing blood for the first time in a while given
the changes that the Lions have experienced.
Whiteley, though, is not getting
carried away thinking about the possibility of the Lions having a target on their
"There may be for them (the
other South African teams), but not for us," he said.
"We are just focused on what
we want to do. You’ve got to be careful when you start getting emotional about
things and we certainly aren’t. For us, it’s just business."
Back for the first time since he
injured his groin on Springbok duty in June last year - bar a couple of matches
in Japan - Whiteley is the leader that De Bruin needs in his first season in
There may be uncertain elements
at Ellis Park in 2018, but one thing De Bruin can bank on is having a captain
who bleeds for the union and has been at the centre of the Lions revolution
over the past few seasons.
"It’s a new season with new
challenges and a new format. We feel as a group know that we haven’t achieved
anything yet," said Whiteley.
"It starts again and we know
that Super Rugby is a long competition and a grind."
Kick-off on Saturday is at 17:15.
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Sylvian
Mahuza, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Elton
Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Cyle Brink, 6 Kwagga
Smith, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1
Jacques van Rooyen
Substitutes: 16 Robbie Coetzee,
17 Dylan Smith, 18 Jacobie Adriaanse, 19 Marvin Orie, 20 Marnus Schoeman, 21
Hacjivah Dayimani, 22 Howard Mnisi, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg
15 Lwazi Mvovo, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13
Lukhanyo Am, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Robert du Preez, 9
Cameron Wright, 8 Keegan Daniel, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5
Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (captain), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Franco Marais, 1
Substitutes: 16 Akker van der
Merwe, 17 John-Hubert Meyer, 18 Tendai Mtawarira, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Daniel
du Preez, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Curwin Bosch, 23 Kobus van Wyk