We asked chief sports writer JON CARDINELLI and junior sports writer GARETH DUNCAN: Will the Lions fare better or worse in 2014 than the Kings did in 2013?
The Kings may have finished last on the log, but they broke all sorts of records in their first year in the competition. Wins against the Force, Rebels and Highlanders made them the most successful debutants in the history of the competition. They also managed to draw with the Brumbies, who went on to compete in the final, in Canberra. That kind of record is going to be tough to match.
If the Lions' recent showings are anything to go by, they are playing a more balanced game than they were in 2012. However, they are still missing quality players, and their late qualification for the 2014 tournament will limit their ability to contract top players and thus fill the void. They had a strong captain in JC Janse van Rensburg, but even he has been lured to Europe with the promise of a more lucrative contract.
The Lions will be competitive against the South African sides, but their lack of experience will count against them when they face international opposition. Their lack of depth will be exposed at the back end of the competition. They may win a game or two at Ellis Park, but I can't see them matching the Kings' effort in winning Down Under.
Being relegated from Super Rugby was a nightmare for the Lions. However, it forced the Johannesburg franchise to realise that they just weren’t cutting it. Between 2006 and 2012, they only won 19 of their 97 games, which is a dismal winning rate of 19.5%. They weren’t worthy.
They endured a difficult experience in 2012, with many of their Lions Challenge fixtures being cancelled, including their tour to North America. They also lost many of their first-choice players as they weren’t involved in top-flight rugby. This made their board, coaching team and squad realise that playing Super Rugby is a privilege. And so it should be.
This was proved when they beat the Kings over the two promotion-relegation play-off matches at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and Ellis Park on points difference. Many expected the Kings to win at home in the first game, but the Lions were fired up and took their chances. They wanted it more and deserved promotion.
While the Kings broke all sorts of records during their debut campaign and achieved two impressive results during their overseas tour against the Brumbies and Rebels, they still couldn’t win any of their South African derbies.
This is something the Lions have done before and will be confident of doing next year. After all, their main goal will be avoiding the wooden spoon in the South African conference. The best way of achieving this is by picking up wins against the Bulls, Stormers, Sharks and Cheetahs.
Photos: Barry Aldworth/Richard Huggard/BackpagePix
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