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    Whiteley: Lions can't stay the same

    2018-02-16 10:50

    Lloyd Burnard

    Johannesburg - 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 business. 

    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 contenders. 

    "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 backs.

    "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 charge. 

    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.

    Teams:

    Lions

    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

    Sharks

    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 Juan Schoeman

    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

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