Discards find a home at Super Lions
Discards find a home at Super LionsSHARE
The Lions, back in Super Rugby after being forced to sit on the sidelines in 2013, are confounding critics in more ways than one.
Not only are they winning games – having already matched the three victories in both 2011 and 2012, in just the first five weeks – but they are also bringing a host of young players through the ranks.
The Lions front row is a case in point.
Last week, in the 39-36 win over the Blues from New Zealand, the Lions front row – Julian Redelinghuys, Robbie Coetzee and Schalk van der Merwe – had just 15 Super Rugby matches and no Tests to their credit.
The Blues' front row – Charlie Faumuina, James Parsons and Tony Woodcock – had 172 Super Rugby caps and 124 Tests amongst them.
It is now consigned to history, but the Lions' rookies taught the Blues' old hands a few lessons in the set pieces.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann put it down to "hard work" and said there is a "good camaraderie" between them.
"There's also good competition and the guys below them are pushing for starting places and opportunities to play," Ackermann told this website in an interview ahead of their Round Six encounter with the Reds.
The Lions mentor was adamant that while his front row has done well, scrumming remains an "eight-man effort" and all his the forwards work hard in the set pieces.
"They know that as individuals they won't get the job done," he said, adding: "They trust each other in that regard."
He said the progress made by the Lions is an example for other young players.
"Julian [Redelinghuys] wasn't given enough opportunities at the Sharks, Schalk [van der Merwe] wasn't given enough chances at the Cheetahs and Robbie [Coetzee] not at the Bulls.
"Here they are coming together at the Lions and making an impact."
The coach know that any team is "only as good as your last game" and said the Lions know they should never think they have achieved something after just a few good outings.
"We know there are always bigger challenges around the corner," Ackermann told this website, adding: "So far they have done very well and done their jobs exceptionally well."
He said the progress made by players at the Lions, after being discarded by other union, is a good example of how the sport works.
"A player gets a chance where a bit of confidence is shown in him and he grabs the opportunity with both hands.
"That is what those three [props], as well as the guys who come off the bench – Willie Wepener, Corne Fourie and Ruan Dreyer – have done.
"They showed that given the opportunity they can do the job.
"That is what is so enjoyable for me, when a young guy was unhappy somewhere else, but shows he is willing to work hard and prove himself."
It is not just in the front row where the Lions have guys that were discarded elsewhere and have found a home at Ellis Park.
"Warwick Tecklenburg was at the Bulls, Willie Britz was at the Cheetahs, Warren Whiteley was at the Sharks, Bossie [Marnitz Boshoff] was at Griquas and the Bulls, Stefan Watermeyer was at the Bulls, Courtnall Skosan comes from the Bulls, Franco Mostert played Varsity Cup in Pretoria," he said.
"They felt it was time to move on and they came to us where we gave them the opportunities.
"It is great when those guys come through for us.
"It is always a risk when you approach those players about joining you, but then you get the satisfaction of having hit the 'bulls eye'.
"It just shows how much talent there is in our country.
"There are still plenty players like that in Boland, at the Griffons, the Pumas and the systems.
"Even in our own [Lions'] systems there are young guys who can – with the right guidance come through.
"[There is] a Cyle Brink and Malcolm Marx, who played Under-21 last year.
"We can provide them with the opportunities, but the player has to make that switch in his mind, have the desire, the believe in himself and do the job on the field.
"They have done it so far and hopefully they will continue doing it for the rest of the season.
"I have said it before and will say it again, we should not get ahead of ourselves, there are many big challenges still in front of us."
By Jan de Koning