Lions coach Swys de Bruin is unconcerned by the number of players who have been playing overseas during the off-season, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Among a number of key squad members, the likes of Elton Jantjies, Franco Mostert, Lionel Mapoe, Warren Whiteley and Lourens Erasmus have all spent time in Japan as part of an increasingly common dual-contract that sees them return to the Lions before Super Rugby.
Influential centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg has also been in action for the Sale Sharks on a loan agreement, while Kwagga Smith is currently with the Springbok Sevens. Then there’s Johannes Jonker, who has been with Montpellier as a medical joker.
Despite the absence of these players, De Bruin said he was fully confident that the returning squad members would slot seamlessly back into pre-season training.
‘We’ve still got about 10 guys who will join us in the coming weeks, it’s all the guys playing in Japan, and then Kwagga will come back in early February, and Rohan towards the end of January. Johannes Jonker will be back around the same time.
‘The good thing about the players who went to Japan is that they’ve been in our system for a number of years already, and they know what we want from them, and I’m not too concerned about that. None of them are overplayed either because they are managed well over there. They’ve got a policy in Japan that a foreigner can only play a certain number of minutes, so that’s suitable as well.’
The Lions could also argue that there are certain benefits to players spending time abroad during the ‘off-season’, with Janse van Rensburg having rediscovered top form with the Sharks, while Whiteley recently made a return from injury.
Whiteley is set to regain the Lions’ captaincy from Jaco Kriel, and De Bruin said it was fantastic to see that the influential No 8 was getting back to full fitness.
‘Warren has got back into action recently and said he’s feeling great. So I’m excited about that, and I know he is very keen to get back into Super Rugby as well. He’s such an instrumental figure for us.’
The Lions will kick off their Super Rugby campaign against the Sharks on 17 February.
Photo: Anne Laing