In the first of a four-part series on the Super Rugby franchises, DYLAN JACK selects the best players to have played for the Lions between 2010 and 2019.
15 Andries Coetzee
Having made over 100 senior appearances for the Johannesburg side, Coetzee is an easy pick at fullback. The 29-year-old began his professional career with the Lions in 2012 and after a short loan spell with the Sharks in 2013, which was unfortunately marred by injury, returned to Johannesburg in 2014 and has been an ever-present and consistent performer since.
14 Ruan Combrinck
A vital cog in the Lions’ revival, Combrinck thrived in the team since joining them as an outcast at Western Province in 2012. With his physicality and finishing as good as his boot, Combrinck was a match-winner throughout the decade. While he did not end his stay in Johannesburg in the best form, having been overlooked for the right-wing spot in 2019 before a move to Stade Francais, his impact on the Lions team that made three Super Rugby finals was undeniable.
13 Lionel Mapoe
Simply put, one of – if not the most – skilled players to have pulled on a Lions jersey in this decade. While Mapoe’s talent was not always recognised or replicated on the Test scene, it was certainly appreciated at Ellis Park, where he became a Super Rugby centurion.
12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg
The bulldozer of an inside centre gets the No 12 jersey. One of a number of players who crossed the Jukskei after not being given a chance at the Bulls, Janse van Rensburg took his opportunity when it came at the Lions. Forming a successful three-year partnership with Mapoe, it makes sense to name the 25-year-old next to his former teammate.
11 Courtnall Skosan
Part of the Lions since moving from Pretoria in 2014, Skosan has been Mr Consistency. The 28-year-old might not always grab headlines, but is one of those players that will never let his coach down. While it was tempting to include Aphiwe Dyantyi is this position on the basis of his incredible 2018 season, a tumultuous 2019 – during which he struggled for form before testing positive for banned substances – makes that difficult.
10 Elton Jantjies
Let’s be honest, there really was nobody else for this position. Scoring over 1,000 points since his debut in 2011, Jantjies has simply been immense for Lions rugby. His defensive frailties have earned him his share of critics, but when it comes to off-the-cuff play and executing a planned move in a clutch, there are few better in the country. If Jantjies is named as the Lions captain for 2020, he will have earned it.
9 Faf de Klerk
While he was heroic with the Springboks at the World Cup, it was at Ellis Park that De Klerk first made a name for himself. As a young scrumhalf on an initial loan from the Pumas, De Klerk caught the eye with his terrier-like performances, eventually resulting in him making his Springbok debut against Ireland in 2016. The rest is history.
8 Warren Whiteley
What more is there to say about Whiteley’s contribution to Lions rugby that has not already been said? Taking the captaincy of a team that was returning to Super Rugby, desperate to prove itself after being left in the cold the previous year would have been a tough ask for anybody, but Whiteley has handled everything in his stride.
7 Josh Strauss
Strauss may have only spent three years with the Lions before leaving for the Glasgow Warriors, but the impact he had on the team during the John Mitchell era was undeniable. Leading the team to their first Currie Cup title win in over a decade in 2011 during a tumultuous time in the union’s history was an achievement in and of itself. Strauss will be back in Super Rugby in the colours of the Bulls in 2020.
A special mention does need to be made of Warwick Tecklenburg, whose incredible work rate helped the team during their Super Rugby finals run between 2016 and 2018.
6 Jaco Kriel
The only thing that seemed to keep Kriel quiet throughout his Lions career was injury. When he was on the field, the loose forward would attract attention, be it through a massive hit, carry or trademark run.
5 Franco van der Merwe
Playing for the Lions between 2007 and 2014, Van der Merwe earned over 100 caps for the team and captained them in 2011 before a move to Ulster three years later. A hard worker and excellent lineout jumper, Van der Merwe was named as the Lions Player of the Year in 2013, the same year he made his long-awaited Springbok debut.
4 Franco Mostert
A lock with an unshakable belief to make it to the top, Mostert has earned his place in the pantheon of Lions greats. Mostert’s engine and willingness to put his body on the line made him a coach’s dream.
3 Julian Redelinghuys
While he came through the Sharks academy, where he was viewed as one of the most promising up-and-coming props in the country, Redelinghuys made an excellent decision to move to the Lions in 2013, after not getting a Super Rugby start for the Sharks in 2012. It was in Johannesburg where he realised his potential, turning into one of the finest South African tightheads of this decade. Unfortunately, a neck injury which forced his retirement meant that he could not realise his full dreams in Test rugby. He continues to serve the Lions as a scrum coach.
2 Malcolm Marx
Widely regarded as one of the best hookers in world rugby, it is scary to think that Marx is still just 25 years old. A major part of the spine of the team that made three Super Rugby finals, Marx has already more than fulfilled his potential.
1 Jacques van Rooyen
An underrated player during his time with the Lions, which ended when he joined Bath in 2018. Van Rooyen earned a name as a massive threat at the scrum and gave plenty of tighthead props a nightmare at the set piece.