I thought I knew quite a bit about rugby until I came here... they certainly taught me a lot.
Departing utility forward Grant Hattingh is sorry to be leaving the Lions, but feels he had no other choice but to move to the Bulls.
The 22-year-old, who joined the Lions on a short-term Super Rugby deal earlier this season, revealed the reasons for his trans-Jukskei move in an exclusive interview with this website.
Hattingh, who is one of seven former Maties players currently on the Lions' books, said the uncertainty over whether the Johannesburg-based team would be a Super Rugby franchise in 2013 was the main reason for his departure.
The Lions, who had hoped for a speedy resolution to the protracted 2013 Super Rugby participation saga, are said to be the team likely to fall by the wayside when the issue is eventually resolved. SARU announced last week that a general meeting, scheduled for July 13, and which was meant to decide which five SA franchises would partake in the 2013 Super Rugby competition, had been postponed indefinitely.
The Southern Kings have been 'guaranteed' a spot in the 2013 competition, with the participation of the other four teams still had to be decided.
"Who knows, if the Lions could have stayed in [Super Rugby in 2013]... they still might... I mean I would have liked to have stayed," Hattingh told this website when asked about the reasons for his move to Pretoria.
"There is such a lekker vibe here, such great mates - a lot of Maties guys have come here," he added.
Although he never played Varsity Cup rugby in Stellenbosch with currently Lions captain Josh Strauss, he is familiar with a number of the other Matie imports at the Lions.
"Callie [Visagie, the Lions hooker] was my Maties captain in 2011," Hattingh said.
"There's quite a few of us [former Maties players] here," he said of players like Strauss, Visagie, Jacobie Adriaanse, Ruan Combrinck, Andries Coetzee and Stefan Greeff.
He said there would be no divided loyalties when he lines up for the Lions against the Bulls in his final match in red-and-white in Pretoria on Saturday.
"The Lions have done so much for me, I will give them 100 percent," he said of Saturday's outing at Loftus Versfeld, adding: "I feel we [the Lions] don't deserve to be kicked out of the Super Rugby competition and I think we are going to prove that on Saturday.
"It will be a full-on, an old-fashioned derby day."
Asked about his move to Pretoria, which will be effective next month, Hattingh said "it will be good for my career, given that we don't know what is going to happen with the Lions next year".
It has been an extraordinary rise into first-class rugby for the young utility forward, who can play anywhere in the second or back row.
From February to April he played Varsity Cup, then he played a game for Maties in the Western Province Super League, before making his WP debut in the Vodacom Cup, after which the Lions signed him on a Super Rugby contract.
"It has been quite crazy," he said of his rapid rise, adding: "After the Varsity Cup Final [a 21-29 loss to Tukkies in Pretoria] we [Maties] played against Belhar in a WP Super League match in the pouring rain with not one supporter. That was quite a change!
"Then two weeks later I was told I was playing [for the Lions] against the Brumbies and going on tour [to Australasia]."
Describing it as "crazy times" he said it was quite a step up and the pace of the game "a lot quicker".
He also spoke of his admiration for the hard work of the Lions coaching staff.
"Jeepers I have learned so much since I have been here - through coach Mitch [John Mitchell] and coach Ackers [Johan Ackermann]," Hattingh said, adding: "I thought I knew quite a bit about rugby until I came here... they certainly taught me a lot."
By Jan de Koning