New-look Lions ready to roar

Coach Ivan van Rooyen is excited to work with a number of new recruits at the Lions, while he’s highlighted that Wandisile Simelane is also in a ‘very good space’, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

On Tuesday, the Lions were set to officially return to non-contact training after government gave the go-ahead for SA Rugby’s professional teams to begin limited sessions in groups of five.

‘We’re just excited to be back, yes, there are limitations, but we’ll work around those,’ Van Rooyen told on Monday.

‘The conditioning team worked really hard during lockdown to tailor-make training programmes for the players depending on how much they could do. We will probably need three to four weeks of intense conditioning to get every player back up to a standard before we can hopefully go back into contact training when the green light is provided for that.’

If all goes according to plan, it’s hoped that a new-look Currie Cup will still be able to kick off at the end of August.

For the Lions, the unprecedented period of lockdown had them bid farewell to some players such as Malcolm Marx and Tyrone Green, but recently the Johannesburg-based side has also announced a number of signings.

Former Vodacom Bulls players such as prop Wiehahn Herbst, hooker Jaco Visagie, and centre Burger Odendaal have all headed across the Jukskei, while prop Ruan Dreyer and centre EW Viljoen return from overseas. Exciting wing Rabz Maxwane also joins from the Cheetahs.

‘These have been different and difficult times, and we did undergo quite a few changes to our squad,’ Van Rooyen commented. ‘A few players have left, but we’re also fortunate to have welcomed some newcomers. For us, it is about having a squad that is competitive and with players who can add healthy competition in positions. I feel we have a squad now that should allow us to play in different ways depending on the opposition.

‘EW, for example, is a nice big outside back who can play at centre, wing and fullback. He’s more of an off-the-cuff player with a bit of flair. Burger has great leadership abilities, and is a big physical ball-carrier, but we’re also excited to see and develop his distribution and decision-making. Rabz is another player with loads of ability and natural talents.

‘Up front, Wiehahn Herbst is well known for his scrummaging ability and is a powerful tighthead. Jaco Visagie is the type of hooker with a proven track record at set pieces, but also has good speed and ball skills. We know a lot about Ruan Dreyer, and are also looking forward to get him back in the fold. We’re excited about what’s coming, and the trick is just to manage the time with the players during this time, and ensure we get creative to maximise our interactions with them.’

Suddenly, the Lions are particularly well stocked in the midfield, and it has led to talk that young Simelane could be set for a shift to fullback in the future.

While Van Rooyen didn’t provide specifics around this, he said it was important for players to boast versatility, and highlighted that Simelane was raring to go after a difficult period during lockdown when plenty of rumours suggested he was set for a move away from the Lions before he ultimately recommitted.

‘I think the days of players only playing in one position is over, and it’s moving more towards hybrids. Having players who can play in multiple positions, particularly in the backline, offers great value. The likes of Dan, Wandi, EW, Burger, Mannie [Rass] – they can all play different roles. Depending on what tactics we want to enforce, we should be able to pick guys for that specific game plan.

‘Talking specifically about Wandi, I have spoken to him quite often. He went through a personal matter during lockdown, but he’s in a great place now and I’m very excited about him – he’s a great talent for South African rugby. The thing for him, like any young player, is to keep on growing and developing, working on all aspects of his game. We’re super excited for his future and are very happy he decided to stay with us.’

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