The Lions, more so than any other team this year, will be keen to trial their systems in Super Rugby’s pre-season build-up.
Having had to be content with watching from the sidelines and playing a few ‘friendlies’, while the Southern Kings enjoyed a season of Super Rugby, the Lions have won back their right to be among the elite of the game in the Southern Hemisphere.
However, the departure of a host of seasoned players and a lack of meaningful competition – other than the Currie Cup competition – means there is an air of uncertainty surrounding the Lions’ readiness ahead of their comeback.
The Lions mark their return to Super Rugby by taking on the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday, February 15.
But before that they have three pre-season games planned – against the Leopards at Ellis Park on January 24, the Southern/Eastern Province Kings at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on February 1 and the Sharks at Ellis Park Stadium on February 7.
And the first of those, this Friday, will be the first indication for coach Johan Ackermann where his team stands.
“It is a run-out for us to ensure the guys get some contact,” Ackermann told Rugby365, adding: “Then we want to see where we stand in terms of our fitness. We want to see how our structures shape up.
“We have worked hard on it in training, but we’ve not had an opportunity to try it out under pressure in a match situation.”
He said there are certain aspects of their game they must try out under pressure and see how it works.
“We have new combinations and the guys haven’t had a game together. We are looking forward to see how they react under that [match] kind of pressure.”
The coach said the teams for Friday – they will take on the Leopards with two sides – are mixed up a bit.
“However, there are some [young] guys we want to see, who are training with the senior Super Rugby group.
“Then there is a group of senior players who are sitting out this week and will only feature in the second pre-season outing.”
On the injury front things have also improved for the Lions.
Deon van Rensburg (leg) and Lionel Mapoe (shoulder) have been taking part in full training with the team and will both feature this weekend.
Ruan Combrink (ankle) started training again this week, and he should be able to play next week.
Willie du Plessis is also back from his injury.
“We only have a handful of guys who are not taking part in full team training,” Ackermann told Rugby365.
“The big names who are not ready yet are Anthony Volmink [shoulder], Ruan Dreyer [shoulder] and Elton Jantjies [shoulder],” he said, adding: “They are still of some concern to us.
“Hopefully the injuries stay away and then we can get some momentum on the playing field.”
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