Healthy Lions open door for 'all-comers'
PRE-SEASON SPOTLIGHT: The Lions may have one of the most settled teams, including a rash of Springboks, but that does not guarantee any player a spot in the squad.
While you would expect their Boks - Malcolm Marx, Jaco Kriel, Warren Whiteley (also the captain), Francois de Klerk, Elton Jantjies, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Lionel Mapoe and Ruan Combrinck - to be regular starts, the door is open for players to unseat the big names.
Lions assistant coach Swys de Bruin, speaking to rugby365 ahead of their second pre-season outing, said it is part of the team culture that those who want it most get selected.
"Ackers [head coach Johan Ackermann] keeps telling the players, that jersey is there for anybody who wants to put his hand up," De Bruin said - ahead of Saturday's encounter with a Barbarians XV at the Wits Stadium in Johannesburg.
"Examples from last year include Makou [lock Lourens Erasmus], [loose forward] Cyle Brink and [midfielder] Jacques Nel - all players who forced their way into the squad.
"It is a very healthy situation to be in when nobody owns the jersey.
"The player who desires it the most will be selected."
De Bruin also said last week's loss to the Bulls have many positives, despite a lopsided result in favour of the team from Pretoria.
"Given that the bulk of our Under-21 team and young players went to Harare, the biggest positive is that the depth at the union is not too bad," the assistant coach told rugby365.
"Those youngsters had a chance to measure themselves against seasoned players and I don't think they did too badly.
"Keep in mind that our Under-19 team and Under-21 team both won the national provincial competition last year, so our depth is healthy."
He added that part of their preparation for Super Rugby was that they would play a group of very young players in Zimbabwe and play another group of players against the BaaBaas XV on Saturday.
A third group, the remaining players, will be in action against the Stormers at Newlands next weekend.
"After that we will have a good picture of our wider squad," De Bruin said.
Saturday's encounter at the Wits Stadium promises to be a try-feast, as the Lions are determined to continue with the expansive game they have played for the last four years.
And the opposition, in true Barbarians tradition, have also promised to be "entertaining".
By Jan de Koning